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In These Days of Endless Hand-Washing, Are Any Body Parts Self-Cleaning?

To put it another way, could you be putting that anus-cleaning time to better use?

As you’ve probably heard a million times by now, washing your hands is extremely important. This is indisputable fact in the age of coronavirus: Wash, wash, wash. Day in, day out, wash, wash, bloody wash.

But what about the rest of our bodies? How long can you go without washing your body (or bits of it, at least)? Aren’t there enough wacky-ass processes going on in and out of various holes that we can forego taking a wash cloth to them? 

Hair

Hair cleans itself, kinda. If you stop washing your hair, it will go bonkers — super greasy and really nasty. However, if you leave it long enough and keep rinsing it with water, unless you’re unlucky, it will eventually end up calming down and looking pretty decent. It might be a few days, it might be a few months, but it’ll generally get there. 

Shampoo removes the oil your hair produces, leading it to produce more and more to compensate, so as soon as you stop, shit’s gonna go nuts. But, persevering through the bit where running your hand through your hair leaves you looking like Johnny Bravo can get you to a point where it calms down, produces sensible amounts of oils and doesn’t look like total hell. There are various substances people suggest can help at certain points — apple cider vinegar, eggs and baking soda, amongst others — and a pretty robust movement around the idea, known charmingly as “No Poo.” 

Eyes

You know blinking? Blinking is your eyes cleaning themselves. Every time you blink, a combination of proteins, salts and fats wash over your eyes and help clean and lubricate it and fight infection. You probably aren’t spending huge amounts of time washing your eyes, but, still, it’s good to know these things. For the love of God, wash your contact lenses, though.

Ears

The point of ear wax is to keep your ear canal clean. It keeps dust and dirt away from your eardrum, fights unwanted bacteria and keeps the pipe kind of… lubricated? It’s good stuff. Then, every movement of one’s jaws helps coax older, hardened stuff toward the exit, where it just vanishes. Where we fuck it up is ramming Q-tips in there, compressing it all, pushing it further in and taking dirt from the outside world with it. We get in a bad cycle — scraping the wax off leads to an itchy ear, which feels dirty, and it all gets worse from there. 

Plus, Q-tips can lead to what doctors call “brain fucked-upness” — a 31-year-old British man misusing one ended up with vomit-inducing seizures and a brain filled with pus. Waxy ears might be gross, but a brain filled with pus is even less hot.

Teeth

Haha, nah, not really. Clean your teeth. We eat way more sugar than we used to, even in foods we don’t think contain it, and while saliva does a pretty impressive job, it’s fighting a losing battle there. Saliva is incredible stuff though, destroying unwanted bacteria (while letting the 700 or so other types of bacteria lingering in your mouth get on with it) and encouraging wounds inside the mouth to heal quicker than anywhere else in the body. 

Still, leave your teeth to clean themselves and you’ll be a stinky, stinky, individual. Not to mention, the sort of infections you’re opening yourself up to can kill — in Britain, for instance, “teeth” used to be the fifth most common cause of death.

Brushing without toothpaste, however, is almost as good as brushing with toothpaste. Physically removing debris and skankiness from your teeth is the most important element of the cleaning process, with the teeth-strengthening properties of fluoride (and general fresher feeling) a welcome but distant second. 

Genitals

This very much depends on what kind of junk you’re sporting. The penis isn’t self-cleaning. Clean your penis. Don’t go crazy soap-wise, though, or you can end up with a much sorer penis than you want, by removing your body’s natural lubricants. Balanitis, a condition you should absolutely never Google Image Search, can also be caused by excessive soaping. The vagina, though, is basically self-cleaning, expunging dead cells and harmful materials all on its own. Using soaps and other cosmetics on it can mess with the pH levels and lead to a whole host of problems.

Butthole

Again, no, your butthole doesn’t clean itself. It raises the question, though — did cavepeople smell like human shit? Did everyone walking around before the invention of toilet paper smell like human shit? According to anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota, that is less of a silly question than it might sound. “Your bum doesn’t self-clean,” she says. “But if you squat to defecate (rather than sit on a ridiculous ceramic throne), your bum cheeks are wide apart enough that mostly you wouldn’t have that much to clean. People definitely stank, but more general BO than poo, I reckon.”

So there you have it: Keep washing your hands. And your penis. And your butthole. And your teeth. And… you know what? Just carry on as you were.

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