Health and Hygiene
By Rebecca Rose, LMT
August 30, 2013
Buildings need it. Machines need it. You need it.
To keep your systems operating at peak performance, you do things to keep yourself clean and working properly. Your dentist has undoubtedly gone through some of the more conventional mouth cleaning with you. Bathing has many intricate steps (more on that later), unique to each individual. Personal beauty habits range from the universal to the bizarre: control the hair, body effusions, manage the wardrobe, etc.
Here I'd like to share what I've learned about some various hygiene routines that may be less familiar,
Nasal Irrigation, Ear Cleaning, Oil Pulling, and Exfoliation.
Nasal Irrigation: This technique is a part of Ayurveda, health practices originating in India. I had to be uncomfortably stuffed up for a while before nasal irrigation sounded attractive to me. A Neti Pot, or nasal irrigation tool, looks like a djini's lamp, with a long small spout on one end and a handle on the other. It is filled with warm salt water, then the spout is put over one nostril, head tips to the side. The water runs into one nostril, through a superficial area of the sinuses, and out the other nostril (many instructional videos are available, practice safely). At first I imagined that the water would wash out any congestion, rinse the sinuses, but I have found it's not quite like that. The action is twofold, hydrating the mucous membranes, and creating a cleansing flow.
It helps to relax. The odd sensation sometimes triggers a gag reflex. At first it's not unlike getting pool water up your nose; then it mellows and is painless. Sometimes you will feel the water travel from your nose into the back of the throat behind the tongue. Then spit it; you can learn to do this voluntarily, clearing the path which lets you swallow mucous. I recommend spitting mucous whenever socially possible; you have processed it once through the nose, no need to let it gum up the gut. My eyes will water during nasal irrigation; whether it's caused by the salt-water flow, or just a reaction to the weird feeling, it cleans my eyes as well. The hydration and movement continues to clean the sinuses for hours after the treatment is over (keep spitting), and affects the whole ear/nose/throat system.
On several occasions due to illness, I did nasal irrigation daily (or more) for several days. The outside skin of my nose was raw from using tissues, and the salt-water was irritating it. A generous coating of food-grade oil on the chapped skin around the nostrils kept the salt-water from stinging, making the treatment comfortable again.
Nasal irrigation can be a helpful addition to medical interventions for sinus infection or allergies; consult your doctor about safely incorporating it into your treatments. It may not be appropriate for people with difficulty swallowing, or with frequent nosebleeds. Keep your equipment clean (more maintenance); run your neti pot through the dishwasher or otherwise disinfect regularly, and allow to dry thoroughly between uses. Personal neti pots are recommended, as opposed to sharing (it's like a toothbrush).
Good times to use nasal irrigation are:
after cleaning or gardening when I may have inhaled particles of dust or dirt
tickle or itching in ears, nose, eyes, or throat
after exposure to people with colds/flu
I now have a greater sensitivity to foreign matter in my nose. I neti occasionally for cleansing and prevention, and rarely have congestion that inhibits breathing.
Malmoea has Flower photography
What is Chi Gong?
Read Rebecca Rose's Article "What is Qi Gong" Learn More
Ear Cleaning: The inner parts of ears are self-cleaning. Skin of the ear canal produces cerumen (earwax) for protection. It catches debris and is anti-microbial, then naturally flakes out of the ear canal on its own. The outer ear can be cleaned with a gentle soap and water, like the rest of the face. Occasionally though, we are compelled to further clean this delicate area. Caution! Never treat an ear at home if you know or suspect that the eardrum is damaged; seek medical assistance! It's too easy to damage this area with cotton swabs (Q-tips) or other objects poked into the ear, so don't do it!
Bouts of excessive earwax is a challenge that runs in my family. One such attack struck me during pregnancy; one night I could hear, the next day everything sounded muffled and far-away. That time I had my ears irrigated by a nurse at my doctor's office; it was an extreme situation. Most often, I clean my ears at home. One can buy irrigation tools for home use, but I have found with preventative maintenance I don't need anything so intrusive.
Therapeutic substances can be gently poured into the upturned ear, allowed to work for 5 or 10 minutes, then easily drain from the ear when you turn the ear down. My favorite treatment is hydrogen peroxide. The bubbling lifts matter away from the eardrum, and the disinfectant property ends any deep-ear itching caused by invasive microorganisms. Peroxide can be drying to the sensitive skin of the ear, so use this cleanser in moderation, and only if the tissues of the ear are undamaged. Oils are used to soften impacted earwax and to nourish and protect the tender skin inside the ears. Sesame and Olive oils are traditional lubricants; Mullein and/or Garlic are often infused into ear treatments. Essential oils should be used with extreme caution; consider the ear canal like a mucous membrane and dilute accordingly. Always use food-grade ingredients for home treatments; a good rule of thumb: if you won't put it in your mouth, don't put it on your skin (or in your ear, or up your nose, you get it...)
The mouth has a messy job to do and we have devised many ways to clean it. The health of the mouth and teeth is integrally linked with overall wellbeing, so I highly advocate regular dental examinations. Modern routines like brushing and flossing are just as people have done all over the world from way back, using wooden or metal pics, medicinal twigs for picking and brushing, threads or sinew to clean between, gum chewing in many forms. Dr. Weston Price observed that people who ate ancient traditional diets rarely had tooth decay, crowding, impaction, or infection; mouthcare was mostly for comfort and pleasant breath. Ayurveda includes many steps of mouth-cleaning in the daily routine, including tongue scraping and oil pulling. I admit I don't have the patience to do this every day, but when I do, I really like it. A tablespoon of food-grade oil is put in the mouth and swished for 10-20 minutes, then spat. The mouth is rinsed with water afterward. It was hard to keep my mouth closed at first, but I have worked up to 20 minutes. One is supposed to work the oil all around and through the teeth and gums, under the tongue, and to the back of the mouth, but it doesn't have to be vigorous; a slow gentle movement is good. The oil hydrates the tissues of the mouth and loosens matter that may be stuck between the teeth, under the gums, or hiding in soft tissue pockets.
Even though you spit the oil, you ingest some of it, so don't use oils that are rancid, contaminated, or that you are allergic to. In India they traditionally use warm sesame oil. A study recently done in Ireland showed that coconut oil was the only oil that stopped the growth of streptococcus bacteria, and it is often suggested for its anti-microbial properties. I have included traces of essential oils in my coconut oil; myrrh is often used for oral health.
I love how my mouth and teeth feel after pulling oil, smooth and soft. It's very much like moisturizing the skin. Saliva will mix with the oil, so the volume of liquid will increase a little as you go along. Oil will also migrate out onto my lips, giving them a deeper hydration than lip-balm; they feel plump and velvety. Also consider this as exercise for the muscles in and around the mouth, toning and firming to the throat, chin, lips, and cheeks. I highly recommend this experience!
Exfoliation: The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects us from outside threats as a physical and chemical barrier. It gives the brain information about sensation, pain, temperature, and pressure. It secretes substances: water helps us regulate body temperature; toxins are eliminated; pheromones help us communicate. It manufactures and stores vitamin D.
In addition to the familiar balance of washing and moisturizing, exfoliation is excellent skin maintenance. Skin has several layers that continually regrow, replacing dead cells with new ones. The dead cells are moved to the outside, where they will flake off (becoming dust in your house) or be scraped away by your daily activities.
Exfoliation is the removal of the outermost dead skin cells through physical or chemical means. It is often accomplished to some extent by other grooming activities. Wet shaving, for example, removes the most superficial layer of dead skin while cutting the hairs very close. Towels and washcloths are vigorously rubbed over the skin as a part of daily bathing. Even wearing clothes will rub off dead skin.
If you scratch your skin when you are wet and your fingernails pull up gunk, if you dry off after your shower and there are little brown pills on your towel, you could use more active exfoliation. Exfoliate treatments are only for healthy skin with good integrity. If in doubt, consult your dermatologist. Avoid areas that are sunburned, rashes or acne, cuts and bruises, moles. Delicate skin like the backs of the hands and tops of the feet should be treated like the face and neck.
There are many methods of exfoliation:
Body Scrubs are gritty substances rubbed over the skin. Grit can be salt or sugar crystals; cornmeal or other gritty flours; clay or minerals; dried herbs; amber powder. Sometimes pumice or crushed walnut, almond, or apricot kernel shells are used in scrubs for the feet. Scrubs for the face and neck will have ultra-fine grit; jojoba is a plant wax used as a gentle face-exfoliate. Other ingredients in scrubs are moisturizing and nourishing to the skin in other ways, bringing the consistency to a paste or “butter”. Scrub in circular motions all over the body, then rinse away. A good scrub will increase circulation to the skin, leaving you pink and glowing.
Dry Brushing is done before bathing or other wet treatments. A natural-bristle brush is rubbed in circular motion over the skin; do not wet the skin or the brush for this treatment. All exfoliation will positively affect the lymphatic system, but dry brushing is considered especially good for lymph flow and toxin elimination. Don't use too much pressure or the brushing can irritate the skin.
Chemical exfoliation relies on acids and enzymes that loosen and break down the dead skin cells so they are more easily washed away. Vinegar, fruits, salicylic acid, wine, and yogurt all contain chemical exfoliates, and can be found in skin-care recipes. There is a deep world of chemistry involved in chemical exfoliation, but it can be as simple as adding vinegar or wine to your bathtub. With any product, use caution! Make sure you are diluting safely; do a skin-test; check with a professional; avoid damaging yourself! Again, always use food-grade ingredients in home treatments. You can also request this of any spa you might attend. More intense chemical treatments can be administered by health-care professionals, addressing pathological skin issues, pigmentation issues, and scars.
Cloths, Brushes, and Loofahs are the most common exfoliation tools. Like sandpaper in the workshop, you want to use an appropriate roughness for any given area. Soft “complexion” towels can be made from bamboo, silk, or softest cotton for use on the face. A terry washcloth is about right for most of the rest of the skin. Brushes and loofahs are somewhat rougher, and should be applied lightly and with short strokes over elbows, knees, or where it feels good. Wash and disinfect your tools! Natural fibers will provide habitat for micro-organisms, so be sure to keep your tools in a dry place (not in the shower). Rinse them after use; allow to dry thoroughly. Most cloths can be machine laundered. Clean other tools often by soaking in hot water, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or vinegar (lots of recipes out there for brush and loofah cleaning). Brushes can be treated with food-grade oil to prevent cracking; a drop of your favorite skin-friendly essential oil will prolong the life of your brushes by discouraging microbes. Replace bath tools occasionally, or if they become brittle, fall apart, or begin to smell rancid.
Pumice stones are for scrubbing the feet. Pumice is a soft rock that is formed when lava is ejected from a volcano. It cools and depressurizes rapidly, frothing, so it has many air pockets. Stones marketed for foot care should be fine grained and rounded. Soak feet in your favorite footbath to soften the dead skin, then rub the pumice in short strokes or circles along the soles and heels. Use caution, as too much pressure, or too long in one area, can damage the skin. Weight-bearing areas of the feet, or places that the skin is regularly rubbed, can have thickened skin or calluses. The pressure causes the dead skin to bond and accumulate; it becomes hard and dry. Regular smoothing with a pumice will soften and reduce these accumulations over time. Rinse your pumice well after every use, and let dry completely; it can be scrubbed with a soapy brush if you see residue in the crevices. Soak in hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or vinegar to disinfect. Pumice stones can be boiled for deep cleaning.
Remember that beauty is mostly health and presentation. Maintenance is routine and can be tedious; upkeep activities are often done in a spa setting, where experts do the delicate work so you can relax. Most of the time though, it's up to us, day by day, to do those things that keep us at our best (or at least presentable). Try to enjoy it! Set aside some home-spa time to pamper yourself, and consider trying something new, maybe Nasal Irrigation, Ear Cleaning, Oil Pulling, or Exfoliation.