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Specialist: a sterile environment is often a bigger hazard than dirt


It was discovered at the end of the 19th century that certain types of bacteria cause certain diseases. Since then, humans have been persistently trying to separate their own body and environment from the world of germs. There is no doubt that hygiene and cleanliness has had a big influence on our health: for example, the advent of pasteurized milk was an essential factor in saving the lives of many children or prevented severe diseases.

Cleanliness does not mean a sterile environment

Neringa Stirbienė, allergologist, clinical immunologist and cleanliness expert at Grite notes that there is a big difference between cleanliness and being sterile. Protecting children from bacteria in their surrounding environment has negatives consequences, as well. Scientists have recently been discovering the influence of a “too clean” society and its habits on our health.

“Most specialists share the opinion that when children encounter a smaller number of germs, this may serve as one of the factors instigating the development of an allergy in later life. This is because we deprive very small children of the possibility of encountering allergens, so they do not get used to them and later the organism is not able to recognize what is good and what is bad anymore,”– notes the allergologist.

According to the hygiene hypothesis that has been widely discussed recently, the growing number of dermal and autoimmune diseases in a developed society may be related to excess hygiene. So, is it possible to find a balance between being sterile and cleanliness, and to learn to live and make friends with the germs that inevitably surround us?

How to protect ourselves and our homes from bacteria

What should be considered if we want to have a clean yet healthy life?

  • Wash your hands correctly. Scientists agree that the main way bacteria are transferred is most likely by dirty hands. So, it is important to wash your hands, not necessarily for long, but frequently and correctly. The hands should be washed under running water using soap and rubbing all the surfaces well. Soap and gentle rubbing lift the germs from the skin’s surface, while rinsing under running water and drying remove the germs.
  • Don’t overuse hot showers. Lengthy daily showers and rubbing the skin vigorously with a sponge are not good for your health. If you clean the body too much, you damage the natural flora and the good bacteria are removed from the skin’s surface. In order to have healthy clean skin that is not too sterile, we must wash the body parts that sweat the most every day and to change our underwear every day.
  • Tidiness as a daily habit. It is also very important that we keep our homes clean and tidy. It is essential that we tidy and clean a little every day, rather than doing a major clean once a week, so that we are living in a clean atmosphere not just once a week, but every day.
  • Cooking. We do not often think about how fast bacteria reproduce on the cutting board when we are slicing meat or fish, so if we are slicing raw meat, the cutting board should be thoroughly cleaned immediately.
  • The cleanest things are the closest to the body. Tests conducted in hospitals revealed that bedding and towels are favourable mediums for the reproduction of germs. The risk at home is lower; however, it is still recommended that bedding be changed at least once a week. And of course, it is not advisable to use the towels and personal hygiene items of other family members. By the way, the problems may also “live” in our pyjamas, so they should also be changed regularly.

How not to become completely germproof

Bacteria cause damage, but if we are too fussy or meticulously clean, it is not helpful either. The excess cleanliness worsens the condition of the skin. Tests revealed that the disordered balance of bacteria on the skin of newborn infants is related to atopic dermatitis. So, if someone is not allergic, they should not surround themselves with an environment that is too sterile – the excess cleanliness may even induce allergic illnesses.

“The good bacteria living on our skin are the primary and the strongest protection from bad bacteria and pathogens. It has been proven that most chemical cleaners affect the natural balance of the skin. For example, chemical substances such as triclosan, one of the ingredients of numerous washing liquids, toothpastes or washing powder prevent the formation of a natural skin barrier,” – stresses Neringa Stirbienė.

She advises reading all the instructions before using any chemical cleaners and to comply with the directions.

“If the allergies persist, the number of allergens at home should be reduced, premises should be aired every day, curtains and bedding should be washed regularly, the number of carpets, soft toys and books should be reduced or they should be removed from the home altogether,” – advises Ms Stirbienė.

Advice for cleaning

  • Review the contents of your bathroom cabinet and read the labels of the body washes, cleansers, tonics, body milks, shampoos and conditioners you are using. The use of very strong or astringent items should be restricted and agents containing many chemical antibacterial parts, parabens and sulphates should be avoided.
  • When using chemical cleaners, wear rubber gloves to protect your skin. While cleaning you should turn on the fan and have the windows opened so that chemical substances are cleared from the air faster and they do not enter the airways.
  • Use natural and equally effective cleaning agents instead of chemical cleaners –bread soda, vinegar and citric acid.

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