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9 Personal Hygiene Practices Americans Take for Granted

In the United States, personal hygiene can make or break your chances in the job world and in your personal life. We take for granted that daily bathing, access to toilets and regular hand washing with soap and clean water makes us smell good and keeps the flu at bay, but in other areas around the world, personal hygiene is a matter of life and death. Here are nine cleanliness habits we should feel lucky to practice.

  1. Daily bathing: Americans scoff at certain European cultures for forgoing a daily bath, and some people in this country even take multiple showers, especially in hot, sticky climates or after a workout. But full-on daily bathing has only been standard — even in the U.S. — since the mid-1800s, much later in rural areas and in newer American cities. NDTV suggests the 1940s as a tipping point for obsessing about daily showers, making our ingrained sensibility about hygiene a relatively new phenomenon. And in regions around the world that don’t have any kind of plumbing — or even soap — settle for washing themselves with their hands or dipping into streams or rivers, which may be contaminated. The green movement is picking up a new type of personal hygiene rebel, however, as conserving water becomes more important. In fact, as soap-dodgers bathe less, they’re even starting to realize they need a daily shower less frequently.
  2. Dental hygiene and correction: As a nation, we’re pretty snobby about our teeth. Not everyone can afford braces for sure, but the families who can, value smile correction as much as their actual, physical health. But before braces even become an option, children are taught to brush and floss twice daily, and people often bring toothbrushes with them on the plane, to work, and to school to brush between meals. But the rest of the world (and we don’t just mean England) doesn’t have the luxury to brush, floss, or receive cosmetic teeth treatment. In fact, the World Dental Relief’s mission is to distribute dental supplies to health care facilities to Latin American, South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, where dental hygiene really does become a health issue.
  3. Private bedrooms and bathrooms: Outside of a college dormitory, most Americans prefer to have private bathrooms and bedrooms, and even privileged siblings don’t have to share sinks or sleeping space. Hotel rooms all have private bathrooms, and businesses with clean public bathrooms have started promoting their novelty services as a huge draw for Americans who can’t stand sharing germs. But in places like India, toilets — let alone private bathrooms — aren’t as readily available to much of the population. UN experts believe that just 31% of the population of India has access to modern sanitation and that 1.1 billion people around the world do the number two with no walls, doors or toilets protecting their privacy.
  4. Clean water: You can only get so "clean" by using dirty water to wash your hands, brush your teeth, or wash your food and clothes. Water sources around the world are more than a little filthy: more than 884 million people worldwide don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water. Communities in these areas are forced to either forgo using the water altogether — and many personal hygiene habits that require it — or use it and get sick. For Americans, the only time we’re really confronted with a dangerous water situation is after a major natural disaster or similar emergency situation.
  5. Menstruation: When a woman in the United States gets her period, she might complain of bloating, cramps, irritation and/or fatigue. But as much as PMS slows our busy lives down here, women and girls in other parts of the world miss out on school because they have no disposable supplies or even a second pair of underclothes to see them through their cycle. They fall behind in classes, adding to the drastic imbalance of educated women in their countries.
  6. Deodorant: Our big concern with deodorant is whether or not it really contains harmful, cancer-causing chemicals, not having access to it. Underarm odor is one of the biggest stigmas regarding personal hygiene in America, and can negatively affect your job interview, romantic life, and ability to retain any friends. Mainstream deodorants usually cost between $3-6 and are a standard application for most Americans over the age of 10 (at least) — but for regions of the world where soap and clean water is hard to find, having fresh, rain-smelling arm pits isn’t high on the list of personal hygiene priorities.
  7. Bandages and wound care: Beyond brushing your teeth or controlling underarm odor, there are some less superficial personal hygiene practices Americans still take for granted, namely, wound care. Band-aids, rubbing alcohol and tweezers are readily available to clean up even mild scrapes, preventing infection. But clean, adhesive, disposable bandages are a rarity — if not a total anomaly — in many underserved populations.
  8. Laundry: Polluted water in many areas of the world — including China, India’s Ganges River, and in other regions — is the only source for washing clothes. Clean water is reserved for food preparation and drinking water, and American-sized washing machines and dryers aren’t even an option. While we search for apartments with private laundry units, other communities couldn’t even dream of such a luxury. Even in Europe, washing machines are much smaller than our own.
  9. Soap: We use variations of soap daily to wash our hair, dishes, clothes, cars and hands — but some underserved populations rely on a single bar of soap for keeping themselves clean and healthy. Just having soap to wash their hands with "can reduce the millions of deaths of little children due to respiratory and diarrheal illnesses" in third world countries, according the Sanitation Updates Blog.

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