Cleanliness has become an American obsession. We want everything very clean – until it sparkles and even smells clean. But is this desire for cleanliness irrational and even harmful?
Keeping our bodies clean is essential to good health. We know that regular washing of our hands can help to protect us against germs that can easily make their way into our bodies and prove harmful. However, there is a fine line in terms of what is healthy body care and habits that serve to be detrimental to our health.
Benefits of a Little Dirt
Exposing children to a less than pristine environment actually has benefits. When children come into contact with a little dirt and non-harmful bacteria their immune systems are challenged and subsequently strengthened. The immune system has to be utilized in order to grow stronger and more effective. If we are constantly cleaning our environments such that no grime is ever left, we rob our children of their natural ability to develop immunity. Studies continuously show that children exposed to dirt have stronger immune systems that have a better capacity to fight off stronger bugs in the future.
Problems with Cleaning Products
On the flipside when we clean incessantly we are also exposing our kids to an overwhelming amount of chemicals in the products that we use. Cleaning products – unless they are generated from natural ingredients – contain chlorine, bleach, ammonia, fragrance (which contains dozens of chemicals) and many more ingredients obtained from petroleum and coal tar. Most of these chemicals are poisonous if ingested.
So if these products are toxic when ingested, wouldn’t they be equally toxic if inhaled day after day? Many people don’t make this connection but it is true that they can degrade our health – especially for those little people who like to hang out on the floor.
What About Antibacterial Products?
Striving to keep their kids away from any germs, many parents pull out the antibacterial lotions after each encounter with public areas. The idea is to kill any bacteria before it enters their child’s body and causes harm. However antibacterial products contain a chemical called triclosan that has been shown to damage liver and is even implicated in cancer. The widespread use of triclosan is also leading to antibacterial resistance – a serious issue if we want to be able to kill bacteria when we really need to. Thus you may be trading in one problem for a much larger one down the road.
It is important to understand that “anti-bacterial” – including antibiotics – will lower our own numbers of good bacteria. These good bacteria that we have comprise a huge portion of our immune system, some say up to 80%. With decreased levels of healthy bacteria, children are more likely to develop allergies, asthma and a host of other diseases. Therefore it is important to preserve these numbers if we want to improve immunity for our kids.
Many children in North America have a bedtime routine that includes a bath. However, this too can be a problem as constant bathing can strip the skin of its natural oils leading to issues such as dryness and even eczema. Add to this the onslaught of bathing products most families use (bubble bath, shampoo, conditioner, etc…) and you have another massive exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
Parents can use common sense when it comes to the bathing needs of their kids. If your child is dirty, give them a bath. But you may want to ask yourself if it is really necessary to bathe them daily if they are not really very dirty.
When it comes to children’s health it is wiser to take the middle road when it comes to cleanliness. Too much can lower their bodies ability to develop a healthy and strong immune system while too little can expose them to sickness. Healthy hygiene practices such as the washing of hands should be encouraged, however, in most cases a natural soap is a better choice than the fancy antibacterial options that abound.