Is There Such a Thing as “Too Clean?”

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As we are bombarded with the message of wash, wash, wash, can we do this too much? Our skin is covered in more than 1,000 types of bacteria, plus viruses, fungi and mites – called microbiota. Most of these will not cause you harm, and some are beneficial to us. They are actually critical to your immune response and overall health. 

Our skin is actually a type of ecosystem called the “skin microbiome”. This biome can actually protect us from getting sick, but most noticeably it affects the way we smell. 

Some people avoid bathing, except for hand washing, to build this microbiome. That’s probably not the best thing to do and you just might lose some friends along the way. It’s not the number of microorganisms, but the type. We need to be careful not to be extreme in either direction. Our skin microbiome needs a wide range of species, but we can do without the harmful ones. 

A study published in the Journal Of Investigative Dermatology found that a child’s skin microbiome is most closely related to their mother’s. Many of these microbes are shared during birth and breastfeeding, and also from getting kissed by their parents and sticking their fingers in their mouths as babies. Our immune system is developed mostly while we are young.  It’s fine for kids to get muddy in the garden – most of the microbes found in garden soil will be harmless anyway. But then, when they come inside for a snack, protect them from illness by making sure they wash their hands. Getting a common cold virus is a totally normal part of childhood. But being exposed to an antibiotic-resistant superbug is a much more serious issue.

Excessive cleanliness is probably not a good thing. We don’t need to sterilize things with antibacterial products. You don’t want to put any extra chemicals or agents in anything because that’s how you create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some things are out of our control, but there are things you can do to keep your defense strong. Keep your body healthy through exercise, sleep, eating healthy and reducing stress. These are all important habits we should be practicing daily. 

It can feel like the balance between exposing children to good bacteria and keeping them safe from the bad stuff is pretty much out of your control. Just try to keep everything in perspective. Use common sense — and maybe go easy on the hand sanitizer. Wash your hands with soap and water after you’ve been in a public place, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing and before you eat.

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