We’re all taught to wash our hands as children, usually before dinner and certainly after using the bathroom. This makes obvious sense as good personal hygiene can stop us becoming unwell. But it’s often said that over washing your hands can do more harm than good. But is there any truth to this?
Over Washing Can Cause Skin Damage
The most common outcome of over washing is the effect it can have on a person’s skin. The constant cycle of wetting your hands and then drying them roughly with a towel can cause unpleasant dryness and cracking. This may seem counterintuitive – after all water has plenty of moisture – but the regular act of having to wash and dry the hands out removes essential oils from the skin, making it hard for the skin to retain its natural suppleness.
Some people use moisturisers to counteract this, but these should only be necessary due to things beyond your control. This might include underlying dermatological conditions – like eczema – or because of cold weather playing havoc with your skin’s condition, but not because of over washing.
Reduced Resistance to Bacteria
We all know we need to wash our hands to prevent against spreading germs and illness to food or other people, but over washing can cause us to become vulnerable to bacteria. This is why it’s only considered necessary to wash them before handling food, after bathroom use, or when in contact with contagious illnesses. The kinds of bacteria that can be found in these situations can be harmful if they find their way inside the body.
However, there are many types of bacteria that don’t need as much attention because we encounter them so often and require a tolerance. By constantly washing hands this could lead to a person’s tolerance to bacteria becoming very low, opening them up to becoming sick more often. This is especially true with children as their immune systems are still developing that essential tolerance.
It Could Indicate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
If you are washing your hands after contact with every foreign object, or for several minutes, or it’s always on your mind, then it could be an indication of a more serious psychological issue. This ‘germaphobia’ may be a sign that you have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder – or OCD.
OCD is when persistent negative thoughts influence your behaviour in a way that can interfere with your ability to go about your daily life. It may be caused by stress, a personal experience, genetics, or simply originate without explanation – often during puberty. If you feel this may be the case visit your doctor for advice and that can help you get the right treatment – often cognitive behavioural therapy or mediation – to help you manage OCD and stop it getting worse.
It’s important to remember that although over washing can have a negative effect, under washing your hands and poor personal hygiene can put you at risk of harm as well. It’s important to find that balance between logic and obsession.