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“Don’t forget to wash your hands!”

If that wasn’t your mom’s favorite saying growing up, it was probably in the top three. Thanks to mom’s incessant nagging, most people are programmed at an early age to wash their hands after using the bathroom. This is a good thing. But since most people – as in 95 percent of the population  – wash their hands improperly, their “efforts” are pretty much meaningless.

Everyone knows the importance of washing hands. So for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll narrow our focus to hand washing itself. Here are 5 techniques for effective hand washing that will help you kill germs and avoid spreading infections to those around you.

1) Don’t forget the soap: Soap breaks down dirt clinging to your hands, killing germs that water alone might not be able to reach. Before applying soap, wet your hands with warm water.

2) Scrub those suds: Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. If you need a frame of reference, this is like reciting the alphabet twice in a row. Be sure to wash your entire hand and wrist.

3) We’re not pointing fingers: Many people only wash their palms and the center of their hands. It’s important to also wash in between your fingers, under your fingernails, behind your hands, and your wrists.

4) Too Hot to Handle: There’s a misconception that washing your hands in hot water is more effective because it helps kill bacteria, but this isn’t true. If anything, hot water is detrimental because it removes natural oils from your skin, causing dryness and discomfort. Instead of hot water, use lukewarm water. In addition to being comfortable, lukewarm water is most effective when used in tandem with modern hand soap.

5) Don’t over-wash: It seems counter-intuitive, but over-washing your hands can actually do more harm than good, as it causes your hands to become cracked and scaly. This problem can usually be remediated by using hydrating gel soap that contains moisturizers.

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