Some tasks in life are so mind-numbingly simple that you don't even think twice about them. You're essentially on autopilot, feet up in the cockpit, content in the knowledge that you'd have to try to screw these things up.
Or would you? What if you've actually been botching things you thought you'd mastered long ago? Like washing your hands. And flossing your teeth. Even applying sunscreen. Surprise, surprise: There's a great chance you're doing those things wrong.
The good news: "Making small corrections to the things you're already doing can have a major impact on your overall health," says Ted Epperly, M.D., the Men's Health family medicine advisor. Here are five mistakes you'll no longer make.
In your mind's eye you can picture the floss dislodging food particles, which brushing then sweeps away. Except for one thing: The benefits of flossing have less to do with freeing the lettuce wedged between your teeth than clearing the debris you can't see—in your mind's eye or the mirror. "Flossing is better able to remove the microscopic debris between your teeth after you've brushed off larger particles that were in the way," says Manhattan dentist Jennifer Jablow, D.D.S. After brushing, spit out the excess toothpaste, but hold off on your final rinse until you've finished flossing. Doing this can help transfer the toothpaste's fluoride into the crevices between your teeth, maximizing its germ-fighting action, says Men's Health dentistry advisor Kenneth Young, D.D.S.
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Anyone who says electric hand dryers are more sanitary than paper towels is full of hot air. Rubbing your mitts under a traditional dryer can boost the number of bacteria on the surface of your skin by up to 45 percent, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found. "Most dryers draw in air from the bathroom and then can expel any airborne contaminants directly onto your hands," says University of Westminster microbiologist Keith Redway, M.Sc. Another problem: Rubbing your hands together can stir up bacteria in your pores so they rise to the surface of your skin. Your best bet is still the paper route, which reduces microbe levels on your palms by nearly 60 percent. Don't worry about paper waste: Many facilities now use biodegradable towels made from recycled paper.
This is one time you don't want to wash your hands. If you suds up after slathering on sunscreen, you leave a crucial surface exposed to harmful UV rays. "I frequently see accelerated aging on the hands because people forget to apply sunscreen there," says Northwestern University dermatologist Amy Derick, M.D. Apply about as much sunscreen to your hands as you would if you were moisturizing with lotion—and don't forget your nails. Yes, they're dead cells, but the tissue underneath is active and susceptible to melanoma and other skin cancers, the Skin Cancer Foundation warns.
If you never changed your car's oil and only topped it off, do you know what you'd end up with? An engine full of dirty oil. Well, you're practicing the same poor maintenance with your contacts. In a University of Texas study, 90 percent of people thought using fresh solution meant simply adding a few drops to what was already in the lens case. The harm? Leftover solution is sapped of its disinfecting power, which the FDA says can raise your risk of vision-damaging infections. Your move: Clean, rinse, and air-dry the case each time you remove your lenses from it. Then refill it with fresh solution.
Bleach is a powerful disinfectant, but you don't pour the stuff on a cut, right? And yet many of us reach for a bleach called hydrogen peroxide, not realizing that while it's murder on germs, our skin also suffers. "It reduces the number of fibroblasts, a type of cell that's crucial for cleaning and repairing damaged tissue," says David Bar-Or, M.D., director of trauma research at the Swedish Medical Center in Colorado and the author of a study on the perils of peroxide. Just clean the wound with soap and water and apply a petrolatum-based cream (such as Aquaphor). Then cover it with an adhesive bandage. The petrolatum creates a moist environment, which promotes the healing of minor wounds, according to researchers in Germany.
For our complete list of shocking ways you're sabotaging your health, check out Simple Health Habits You're Doing All Wrong.
Reporting and writing by Paige Greenfield