By now, we know all about the importance of good hand hygiene to keep us healthy. A thorough hand washing can prevent us from contracting infections due to bacteria or viruses that we might pick up from common surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons, and handrails. But what about bacteria and viruses that might be present in our hair or on our scalp?
The effectiveness of shampoo against germs
Shampoo may lather up the same way hand soap does, but its purpose is not to remove and kill germs. Rather, it's to cleanse the scalp and hair of product build-up, dirt, and excess oil. Still, according to the experts, shampoo proves to be pretty effective at ridding our hair of microorganisms
"First, simply the process of lathering and rinsing dilutes and rinses off the microbes off your hair and down the drain," says Stanley Maloy, PhD, associate vice president for Research & Innovation at San Diego State University. "Second, many shampoos have detergents to remove natural oils from hair, and some of these detergents have the ability to dissolve membranes on certain bacteria and viruses, and thereby inactivate them.".
He also notes that shampoos use gentler detergents compared to typical bar soap. That's so the shampoo doesn't dry out the scalp and hair too much. While this may make shampoo less effective at killing pathogens, it's still very effective at washing them away, down the drain.
How to keep your hair clear of pathogens
First things first, your hair isn't an ideal place for viruses to live and thrive. In fact, Whyte says that hair's natural oils can act as a barrier to ward off infections. Also, hair is porous, and in general, viruses do not last as long on porous surfaces as they do on nonporous surfaces.
To be extra cautious, you may want to consider increasing how often you wash your hair if you have been around someone who is sick or during times like flu season. Whyte says it's also important to disinfect the handles on your brushes and combs regularly. Also, avoid sharing any hair products to prevent the transfer of germs
There are antibacterial and antifungal shampoos out there, but these are for people with specific diagnosed scalp conditions, such as severe dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, which can be caused by an overgrowth of fungal pathogens.
Maloy says to avoid using these types of shampoo unless a medical professional tells you to do so. "The antimicrobial compounds can kill our beneficial bacteria and, in many cases, also promote antibiotic resistance," he says.
All in all, you don't need to worry too much about viruses or germs in your hair. Chances are slim that there's anything harmful in there, and regular washing with your normal shampoo will get the job done. It's more important to put emphasis on good hand hygiene.
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