Health; body; hygiene; perspiration; sweat; wash; bath; clean; food; period; tampon; personal; hand; washing; teeth; gums; safety; blood; cigarettes; smoking; tobacco.;
Personal hygiene needs to be part of everybody's daily habits, so that we can help prevent illnesses from spreading. In some places it is easier to practice good hygiene (if for example you have clean water on tap), and for some jobs you need to be very careful about hygiene.
- washing your hands
- also washing the rest of your body
- taking care when you are handling food and storing food
- being careful not to cough or sneeze on others,
- cleaning things that you touch,
- throwing away things such as tissues that might have germs on them
- using protection (such as gloves or condoms) when you might be at risk of catching some infections.
'Hygiene' was first of all thought about as a way to stop the spread of infection, but now we also use the word hygiene to mean the way to make sure that our body is also nice to be around (for example hair looks clean and we smell OK).
What you do about personal hygiene is very much dependent on the culture in which you live. Your 'culture' does not only mean in which town or country you live, but also the group that you spend most time with. In some groups it is expected that you will wash your body at least every day and use deodorants to stop body smells; in other groups different 'routines' may be usual.
Body smells are partly due to
- chemicals that the body makes (such as the pheromones or 'sexual' chemicals that attract (or repel) others)
- things that the body is trying to get rid of (such as garlic and alcohol)
- and partly due to the actions of bacteria on the skin. There are always bacteria on the skin which 'feed' on dead skin cells and fluids such as sweat. Some of these bacteria make chemicals which smell unpleasant such as hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg gas).
Washing and using deodorants gets rid of many of these smelly chemicals for a while but they build up again every day.
Clothes (especially socks and underwear) can be smelly and unpleasant to others after they have been worn for one day. Making sure that underwear and socks are changed each day is usually the thing to do in places where it is easy to wash clothes. In some places this may not be possible.
Other people do make judgements about some people based on what they look like and what they smell like. Make sure that the 'message' you give is the one that you want to give.
Cigarette smoke, whether you are a smoker or are around people who smoke, clings to your clothes with an unpleasant smell.
- Having clean hair is also something that many people prefer.
- Shoes often get very smelly, and putting them outside to dry completely (killing the bacteria in them which make the smell) can make you easier to live with.
How much do you do with your hands? A fair bit when you stop and think about it.
- Most of the infections we get, especially colds and gastro, we catch when our hands get germs on them, and we then put our hands to our mouth or nose.
- Some we catch when other people's dirty hands touch the food that we eat.
It is important to keep hands as clean as possible, particularly if you are around food.
Wash your hands
- after using the toilet,
- before making or eating food,
- after handing dogs or other animals
- if you have been around someone who is coughing or has a cold. You would be very surprised how often you move your hands to your mouth or nose (you can, of course, also catch the germs if you breath in the air that they have just filled with germs when they coughed).
Use clean water and soap (or alternative) over your hands and wrists. You may need a brush to get under nails if they are dirty as well. Use something clean to dry your hands, such as paper towel or a hot air dryer. Stop for one minute and think what you have done with your hands today, and how often have you washed them well?
Food poisoning is an illness that you can develop after eating food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria (contaminated means germs are in it). You can feel sick, vomit, have abdominal pains and diarrhoea a couple of hours to a day or so after eating the contaminated food. You can't always tell if food has been contaminated because the bacteria often don't make the food smell or taste different. Following are some ideas on how you can prevent those bacteria getting into your food at home (or work).
- Always have clean hands before you eat or prepare food.
- When you are preparing the food, keep surfaces and utensils clean (chopping board, bench, knives, forks and so on).
- Prepare raw and cooked foods on separate work areas with separate utensils.
- Wash all food that will be eaten raw (such as fruit and vegetables).
- Maintain the correct temperature when storing foods.
- Keep perishable food refrigerated, do not thaw frozen foods at room temperature (keep them in a fridge).
- Serve hot food when it is hot and cold food when it is cold.
- Don't keep cooked food at room temperature, keep it either hot or cold.
- If you are reheating foods, make sure the food gets hot right through.
- When you have thawed frozen food, do not re-freeze it, and if you have re-heated food once already, don't let it get cold and then re-heat it again!
The vagina is an area of the body that is able to clean itself. No special care is needed other than washing the outside of the genital area like you wash other areas (eg in a bath or a shower). Putting anything into the vagina can damage the delicate skin inside, making it easier for germs to cause an infection, so you do not need to use special preparations such as douches.
Having a period does not mean that you cannot wash your genital area the same as you usually do. You can have a bath, shower (or swim) just like you usually do. Water cannot get into the inside of your body. You can go to the toilet to wee before swimming to wash out any blood if you are worried that others might notice.
It is important that you change tampons and sanitary napkins regularly (4 to 5 times per day). Before putting a tampon in make sure that your hands are clean. For more information see our topic Periods - what to do.
Cystitis (infections in the bladder)
Cystitis is painful and can be common in sexually active young women. Urinate (wee) after sexual intercourse, because this can help wash out any bacteria that may be in the bladder.
Many women get thrush infections in the vaginal area. Washing the outside of the genital area with a very mild soap or just with water may be best, as some soaps and detergents can irritate the skin making it more likely for thrush to get going. Some toilet paper also seems to irritate the skin. Unperfumed paper may be better.
Wearing tight, synthetic underwear may also make it more likely you could get thrush. Try cotton underwear, and change them regularly.
See the topic Vaginal thrush for more information.
If you are uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin when you have a shower and clean with water. You can use soap if you like but make sure you rinse it off well.
This is something that many people worry about and feel conscious of at times. There are several things that can cause bad breath, eg diseases of the teeth, gums and mouth, indigestion and some other health problems.
Most people have 'bad breath' first thing in the morning because less saliva (which 'washes' the mouth) is made while you are asleep. After having something to drink and eat, and cleaning your teeth your breath will smell better again.
Some things that you eat can cause your breath to smell for a while such as garlic and onion. Some people do not like the smell of them, but others don't mind. It can take many hours for the smell to disappear. Chewing gum cannot get rid of onion or garlic smell. The smell is in the air you breathe out of your lungs. Chewing gum may give a stronger smell [such as peppermint] to hide the other smell for a little while.
Cigarette smoking can make your breath smelly and stain your teeth and fingers yellow. The nicotine in the tobacco smoke causes the bad breath and the tar in the tobacco smoke is responsible for the stains to your teeth and fingers. The risk of having serious gum disease is increased six times more in smokers than in non-smokers. See our topics Smoking and Passive smoking. See also the OxyGen web site http://www.oxygen.org.au
Bad breath can also be caused by decaying teeth and/or a gum infection. You may have some bleeding from your gums. It is important to see your dentist regularly. As well as visiting your dentist, you need to brush and floss every day.
Mouth washes, mouth sprays and flavoured chewing gum can make your breath smell better for a little while, but if you have a health problem in your mouth, the smell will come back - so see your dentist!
If you are not sure whether the water that you can use for cleaning your teeth and washing your hands is safe, take special care. A shower with hot water is probably OK, but do not use tap water for cleaning your teeth unless you are very sure that it is safe. If you need to use water that you are not sure about to wash your hands, make sure your hands are totally dry before you touch any food (and do not wash fruit or vegetables in unsafe water).
If you do not have a safe water supply, make sure the water is boiled before you drink it. Make sure any dishes and cups (etc) are totally dry after they are washed.
Infections can be passed from one person to another by contact with blood, and it is wise to think of all blood as possibly infected so that you do the things you need to keep yourself safe, but:
- touching blood with your hand or other part of your skin will not give you an infection if your skin is 'intact' (there is no sore or cut on your skin) or the blood is dry [germs live for a short time (only a few minutes) outside of a body]
- you will not get an infection if the other person did not have an infection.
If someone is bleeding and needs your help, try to make sure that you do not touch the blood or injured part of that person's body if you can. You could wear plastic gloves or cover your hand with plastic wrap. You could give the dressing to the injured person to hold on the wound while you stay close and give her support.
If you do need to touch something with blood on it, or you do so accidentally, it is very unlikely that you will get an infection, since most blood borne infections need blood to blood contact (eg through sharing drug injecting equipment or getting blood into a cut that you already have on your body). If you are concerned, go to see your doctor who will be able to talk about the risk, and to have blood tests done if needed.
Dried blood on tampons, on pads used during a period, or on used tissues will not cause an infection, but they are unpleasant for others to have to touch, so make sure you dispose of them carefully.
Some blood borne infections can be passed on during sexual intercourse, so always practice Safer Sex and use condoms (see Safer sex for more information.
- The Second Story Youth Health Service (TSS)
- Central: 57 Hyde St, Adelaide
- South: 50a Beach Rd, Christies Beach
- North: 6 Gillingham Rd, Elizabeth
- West: 51 Bower St, Woodville
- Youth Health line 1300 13 17 19,
- Your family doctor.
- Community Health Services (Check the White Pages for your area).
- Quit Helpline 131 848
Quit SA 'For young people' (information about smoking)
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).