Adulting 101 Hygiene Habits
What in ternation is this?
Fact: Most of us are adults.
Fact: Adulting can be hard.
Fact: Some of us welcome a little help with said adulting.
This is the thought process I had when I thought of writing this little mini-series touching on skills with real-life applications. If you’re here on AF, I can only assume you love anime and that’s what you come here for. But I see it as a bit more. We are a community drawn together by that common interest, but that doesn’t mean we’re all living, breathing, consuming, and dreaming in anime at all times (unless you are an exclusively anime-fuelled cyborg, in which case I apologise profusely.) We have families to care for, careers to nurture, education to strive in, and oftentimes so little time to focus on taking care of ourselves. We are people.
And if you’re anything like me, nobody taught me everything I really needed to know how to do.
Maybe most of us know the basics, but chances are, there are some gaps present that we weren’t warned about. Raise your hand if your parents never taught you about lotion. (I’m sincerely imagining myself the lone soul in here doing so.)
I’m one of those people. When I got kicked out of the nest I knew nothing. Sometimes you just get thrown into the deep end and you better learn how to swim. It was motivation to seek out those with answers and ask all the questions. So that’s what I did. I was that annoying little bird who sat on the shoulder of knowledgeable people and asked question after question with no shame at all. Turns out, they were more receptive to slake my thirst for knowledge in the silliest of things they reckoned my mother ought to have taught me by that age.
So, going forward with the assumption that maybe I’m not the only one who faced that situation, I wanted to share what I’ve learned over some years obsessing over trying to do things right. I think I’ve got a fairly solid bank of knowledge on maintaining a healthy standard of personal hygiene. And please don’t think I’m accusing everyone of having poor standards, I’m not. I’m sure most if not all of you do just fine, in fact. But if you’re interested in expanding a bit past the basics, then read on, because you might learn something new!
I am not a dentist, or a hygienist, and no longer hold any qualifying or valid licenses associated with the field. I am also not a beautician, nor a dermatologist. The information and advice I intend to outline in this little reference sheet are compiled from a mix of my own experiences working alongside professionals, their opinions, and my own research and personal results. Always operate under the assumption of YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) and remember that there is always a possibility that some of this may not apply to you. If you have contradictory instructions from a doctor/professional, for the love of blueberries follow their advice!
This is easily the subject I took to the quickest, with good reason. Let’s face it- whatever you believe or don’t believe in, we humans got the short end of the stick when it came to the design and efficiency of our dentition. Sharks get to enjoy multiple rows of teeth in case they break or they lose them otherwise. We get one set of primary teeth which eventually fall out when we reach a certain age, and after that, we have one shot. Our adult dentition fully erupts, usually by the time we hit puberty, and that’s all we get. Break a tooth? Bummer, it’s gone forever. A dentist can give you a list of options moving forward (bridge, implant, crown, extraction) but that tooth isn’t growing back no matter how nicely you ask the tooth fairy.
The importance of proper oral hygiene is easily highlighted when you consider that once a problem has gone too far, the slope is extremely slippery and in many cases, there is little recovery that can be made, if at all. Tooth decay is a critical (and expensive,) situation you want to avoid at all costs, and many seem not to pay it the attention it deserves. People can sometimes forget (or perhaps not even be aware,) the fact that your teeth are connected to your bloodstream- and as you may know, once something is in your blood, it’s there. Bacteria in your teeth can infect your blood and lead to very serious complications including and not limited to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Got your attention? Good. Oral health is important, do not neglect it.
• Twice A Day: You should make a point to not only brush those pearly whites twice daily (for at least two minutes,) but to floss them as well. Flossing is an important step you should not miss because a toothbrush can’t necessarily get in between your teeth where most of the food residue sits. And you should floss before you brush, because…
• Spit, Don’t Rinse: Toothpaste is designed to work in contact with your dentition. Assuming you’re using a toothpaste which contains fluoride (I know what you’re thinking- yes, there exist certain ‘natural’ toothpastes which do not contain fluoride, amazingly,) then you want to allow it as much contact time as possible. This is even more important if you are brushing with soft water or water which does not contain it already. I know it doesn’t taste the best, but don’t rinse your mouth after you brush. Simply spit any excess and allow the fluoride to do its job.
• When You Should Rinse: After a meal, you should wait about an hour before you brush your teeth, as doing so too soon may damage your enamel. Aren’t teeth confusing and wonderful? Instead, you can rinse your mouth with water for now, and if you’re worried about bad breath, chew some sugar-free gum! (More on that below!)
• Commonly Missed Areas: There are three areas most commonly missed by the toothbrush, and it can only do good if you can remember to make contact with them: the back of your tongue, roof of the mouth, and the gingival 1/3rd of each tooth. What’s the gingival 1/3rd, you might be asking? It’s a bit of dental lingo which is referring to the very lowest point of the tooth before its roots, where it erupts from the gingiva (gums). Don’t be afraid to brush up against this part, and you may have to angle the brush down a bit to reach it.
• Water Flosser: I just cannot recommend this enough. While there’s nothing wrong with using a good ol’ string to floss with, a water flosser has benefits you can’t easily dismiss once you know how they operate. One such benefit I make personal use of is the ability it has to get into superbly tough spots it would ordinarily be almost impossible to string floss. Anecdotally, I have a spot in the back of one of my second molars where the gums are raised because the wisdom tooth that was there was growing way too close to it. Because of this, the roots are exposed, unfortunately, so I have to find a way to wiggle out any food that might get trapped in that spot. There are special brushes you can manoeuvre back there, but my water flosser can flush it out with no problem (and painlessly I should add.) You can even mix a little mouthwash in these little miracle tools and floss using that!
• Sugar Frequency: Here’s a commonly misunderstood concept. Sugar creates a risk for your dentition because bacteria eat the sugar, which converts it into lactic acid, which in turn erodes your teeth and creates cavities. But it’s not the amount of sugar consumption which causes problems, it’s the frequency. Say you have a 2-litre bottle of Coke. If you chug it down in under a minute, it won’t be good for your health, but your teeth are only exposed to it for a minute. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid versus slowly peeling it off. If you have a big cup of pop you’re sipping on throughout the morning at the office, that’s near-constant exposure to sugar and acid to your teeth all morning. Not good!
• And Black Coffee?: Black coffee skips the sugar part and jumps straight to the acidic part! Frequently consuming black coffee all day long can lead to problems as well.
• Let Me Tell You About Xylitol: Chew sugar-free gum all you like, in fact, chew it 3-5 times a day if you prefer! Check the ingredients for your little friend xylitol, a sweetener which has been shown to have health benefits rather than health risks. It doesn’t spike your blood sugar or insulin, so it’s a great choice for diabetics. It feeds the good microbes in your digestive system. And, it turns out to be amazing for your oral health, because it acts as the world’s most enticing mouse trap for bacteria in your mouth.
• Regular Visits: Don’t forget to actually visit the dentist. No matter how well you care for your teeth, you still need a hygienist to perform a routine cleaning for you every six months to help remove any buildup (calculus/tartar, which is essentially hardened plaque,) that might have slipped through the cracks, and even under your gums. The dentist will also perform a routine check of your dentition to determine if there is anything more serious which needs to be addressed. The sooner a problem is identified and treated, the better.
We can’t all have flawless, bouncing, and multicoloured locks like our favourite anime characters, but we can try, right? I’ll say this upfront, I know less about hair than I do these other two subjects, because as it turns out, it’s very rooted in chemistry, which I’m no expert in, so this bit will be regrettably shorter. The basic process for caring for hair is cleansing, conditioning, drying, and then styling. In other words the process of cleaning the hair, protecting it, drying it, and then getting it into the shape you want it to be. Fulfilling those needs in these four areas is the objective of growing a healthy mane. Healthy hair is easier to maintain when it grows out of your head in the best condition possible. For this to happen, your follicles need access to nutrients and water in your bloodstream. Basic health practices will contribute positively to the health and, consequently, look of your hair. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid highly processed grains and dairies, get exercise, and drink lots of water. Talking to a doctor will help you determine if vitamins or minerals are especially lacking in your diet, in which case there are supplements you can take to help fulfil any deficiencies.
• Don’t Wash Every Day: Yep, you read that one correctly. Washing with shampoo too frequently strips the natural oils from your scalp that are produced to lubricate the hair shaft, and as a result, exposes your hair to more damaging agents. Many commercial shampoos have harsh surfactants that degrade the cuticle through abrasion and excessive oil extraction, and can even sever protein bonds in the cortex underneath. While these harsh surfactants do clean the hair better, our hair doesn't need to be cleaned that well that often.
• So How Often Do You Shampoo??: Inversely, not washing your hair enough can lead to intensifying any scalp conditions you might have. Wash cycles, just like skincare, vary from person to person. Experiment with different lengths of time in between washes for a couple of weeks to see what works best for you. On off days you can keep your hair dry, wet and massage it in the shower, or wash with conditioner.
• Conditioning Your Hair: Conditioners protect your locks by smoothing down the cuticle, which reduces the chance for damage, reduces moisture loss, and makes the shaft softer, easier to comb, and more manageable overall. In other words, using a conditioner is essential. What’s great about them is how versatile different types can be. Depending on what kind of hair you have, you might benefit from in-shower conditioners, leave-in conditioners, deep conditioners, or even all three. I especially encourage you to look into the benefits of a bi-weekly deep conditioner, if you’re someone who has particularly dry or rough hair.
• Let’s Talk About Heat: While it may be tempting to style your hair using hot blow dryers, straighteners, or hot irons, this is also very bad for your hair and if used too frequently will cause damage. While heat styling may seem like the only way to make your hair look good right now, over time, as the condition improves, it will most likely look better without the need for it. You should try to avoid burning your hair as much as possible.
• What About Air Drying?: There exists some experimental research that indicates complete air drying also damages the cell membrane between cuticle and cortex fibres. To avoid this, it is recommended you wrap your hair in a towel to soak up any excess water.
• She Blinded Me With Science: According to the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, you can safely blow dry on a low heat setting after applying a heat protectant to your hair without risking damage. Its top ingredients should be non-volatile silicones, PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer, Quaternium 70, and/or hydrolysed wheat protein.
• Using Styling Products: Since styling is a personal choice tailored to your own preference, I’m not going to presume or advise any one technique here. However, there are a couple of good thumb rules to keep in mind when deciding which products you use (or don’t use) in your hair.
• Avoid Short-Chain Alcohols: The short-chain alcohols (SD alcohol, alcohol denat., propanol, propyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol) are included in some products to decrease drying time and make the product spread more easily, but they also dry out the hair by pulling out all that moisture you worked so hard to retain. Dry hair is more susceptible to breakage, damage, and frizz.
• Long-Chain Alcohols: Lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, and behenyl alcohol. These are long-chain molecules that act like conditioners by smoothing the hair cuticle. Just be careful not to use too much, as that can make the hair feel weighed down and greasy. Silicones have the same conditioning effect, but can be more difficult to wash out and therefore can build up over time with undesirable consequences.
Yes, here we are, we made it to the last section. I may be a bit of a dental nerd, but a few of you may have picked up before, my true passion lies in skincare. The crazy thing about skincare is how utterly, dangerously addicting it can be- especially once you start finding a routine which works for you and your skin type. See, the thing that makes this so complicated is that our skin can be as unique as our own fingerprints. Some of us have excess oil, for some it’s too dry. We might have what’s called combination skin, where it’s dry in one spot, acne-prone along our jawline, and oily on our forehead! Our skin is susceptible to outside influences such as hormones (pregnancy glow my butt,) abrasion, scarring, acne, chemical burn, diet and hydration, and of course the biggest offender, UV light.
I could sincerely write a whole standalone guide on skincare routines, and I just might at some point, but unfortunately, we’re going to have to settle for some basics and essentials, because that’s what this particular thread is about.
• YMMV: I cannot stress this enough when it comes to skin. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another. If you want to get serious about taking care of your face, the most important first step is identifying your skin type(s). As stated above, determine if you have oily, dry, acne-prone, sensitive, normal, or combination skin before investing in products to treat them. There are lots of resources on the net on how this can be done, so hop on a search engine and get this process going.
• Patch Test: Riding off the above, always, always patch test a new product before fully integrating its use. Patch testing means to apply a very small amount to a small area of skin (big enough you’ll feel it) and wait to see how your skin takes to it. Note that some products may take hours, some may take days to show changes. If you are testing for an allergic reaction, you should do this behind your ear for 3-5 minutes. If you have any adverse reaction, rinse it immediately and discontinue use.
• The Standard: No matter your skin type, the most basic outline of a routine will look like this: cleanse, actives, moisturise, SPF, in that order. There is a reason this order is in place. Cleansing does exactly what you expect- it clears the skin of sweat, leftover product, oil, dirt, and prepares the skin for any actives or treatments you may be using. Actives aren’t going to work very well if all that residue is in the way- they need as much access to your dermis in order to be the most effective. Moisturising is an essential step in that it nourishes your skin and balances skin concerns such as dryness and oiliness. SPF should always be applied lastly, because it works by literally creating a barrier between your precious skin and the harmful rays of the sun. And don’t forget- you can and should also apply SPF to your lips!
• I’m Going Outside Today: Great! Apply SPF.
• But It’s Raining: Apply. SPF.
• The Sun Isn’t Out, Why Worry?: S. P. F.
• What If I Want To Go Beachbumming And Get A Tan?: If you really must, a tan as gradually as possible is best. Do not burn. The more sunburns you get in a lifetime will increase your risk for skin cancer. Once again, use sunscreen.
• The Moisture Barrier: You’ve probably heard of this term- “baby smooth skin”. Plump, smooth, and soft. This is an example of a perfectly intact moisture barrier. It is the topmost layer of skin which is made up of lipids which protect you from bacteria or otherwise harmful environmental invaders. And sadly, it can be damaged. If your skin feels dry, tight, itchy, sensitive, or flaky, you probably have a compromised moisture barrier. Eliminating the source of the problem and treating your skin like it belongs to a baby will allow your moisture barrier to repair itself over time.
• How Does This Happen?: There are a concerning number of things which can damage your moisture barrier. You can easily find a more detailed list with a Google search, but some of the top culprits are: exfoliating too often, cleansing your face with hot water, not using SPF, drinking alcohol, skipping moisturiser, aging, and harsh cleansing products (ever see a product such as a bar of soap advertised as suitable for ‘hands, face, and body?’ Yeah- do not put this anywhere near your face. I’m internally screaming just thinking about this.)
• Shaving Of The Face: There’s good news for those with facial hair to groom- you can totally shave without worrying it will cause damage to your skin, provided you are not reckless in doing so. It’s a good idea to do so after cleansing, as this helps soften the hair which in turn will result in a more deliberate and easy stroke. Avoid pulling the skin too tight, and shave in the direction of hair growth - shaving against the grain may lead to a closer shave, but it can increase the risk of irritation and ingrown hairs, which nobody likes.
• The Post-Shave: Avoid aftershaves with menthol or short-chain alcohol (SD alcohol, denatured alcohol/alcohol denat. and isopropyl alcohol) as this could dry out and irritate your skin. If you’re somebody who is prone to post-shaving acne or experience irritation, you can try using a BHA active after shaving to help reduce the negative effect. And remember to always moisturise!
• Drying Skin: After a shower/bath or after cleansing your face, you’ll probably want to dry it. It’s generally a good idea to pat your skin down with a towel rather than abrasively rubbing it against your skin. I know it may seem silly, but it’s the little things.
• Stay Hydrated: This is just good advice all around. Drink water. There are countless benefits to simply drinking water, and you should strive to drink at least 1.5 litres (or around 48oz) a day, in fact.
Well folks, that’s about all I can think of right now. I hope even if you already follow some healthy routines, reading this far can help reinforce good habits. I do have another topic in the works and while I’m personally only tackling subjects I feel I know enough about to offer solid advice on, I want to encourage anyone who reads this message to share their real-world know-how as well. This can be as simple as basic DIY automotive maintenance or a how-to on organising your closet- if you know how it’s done, take the time to write up a tutorial on it. Chances are, someone will appreciate the tips!
As a friendly parting PSA, always remember to practice good hand hygiene! Hands are the #1 vehicle in which illnesses are spread, and because it’s so easy to simply take a couple of minutes to wash your hands with soap and hot water, there’s just no reason to skip this simple and effective action. Wash your hands after leaving the washroom, when caring for a sick person, before handling food, and before and after touching babies. There’s never a bad time to wash your hands, really. Not spreading germs benefits yourself and everyone around you. Just do it!