Think of your body like it's a temple: It's yours to use, but there are some sacred spots you shouldn't put your grubby hands on."Research shows that hands play a major role in the transmission of germs," says Kelly Reynolds, PhD, an associate professor in the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. "Even after proper washing, hands and fingers are rapidly re-contaminated from the surrounding environment."MORE: The Germiest Places You Touch Every DayThat's especially true if you haven't clipped your nails lately, or if you sport some bling. Research from the University of Nebraska suggests that people who wear rings or keep their fingernails 2 millimeters or longer tend to carry more microbes on their mitts. "My opinion is that the easier it is to clean your hands, the better off you are," says study author Mark E. Rupp, MD, professor and chief of the division of infectious disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.The next step: keep your paws off these body parts as much as possible.
1. Your Ear CanalYou should never stick your fingers—or anything else—in your ears. "Introducing anything into the ear canal can tear the thin skin that lines the ear canal,” says John K Niparko, MD, professor and chair of the department of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.If you feel a persistent itching sensation in your ears, see an otolaryngologist rather than trying something DIY. "An otolaryngologist can assess the problem—whether it be wax accumulation, eczema of the skin, or infection—like swimmer's ear, for example. A tailored program of treatment, ear hygiene, and moisturizing of the skin should be put into play," says Niparko.
2. Your FaceYou can use your hands to wash your face or apply skincare. But otherwise, keep your paws off. When you rest your hands on a germy surface and then bring them to your forehead, it increases your likelihood of getting sick—and breaking out, too. Your fingers contain oils that can plug your pores, says Men's Health dermatology advisor Adnan Nasir, MD.(Touching your face is one of the 7 Health Mistakes You Probably Made In The Last Hour.)
3. Your Butt
Wiping and washing aside, just don't. "The anus does contain bacteria that could potentially be harmful," says Jared W. Klein MD, PhD, medical director of the after care clinic at Harborview Medical Center. After you poop or touch your butt for any other reason, wash your hands thoroughly.
4. Your EyesUnless you're putting in contacts or washing away a particle that found its way into your peepers, keep them off limits. You can easily introduce germs into your eyes, says Men's Health ophthalmology advisor Kimberly Cockerham, MD. Those bugs could cause anything from pinkeye to a scarier infection. Follow her simple rule: "Don't touch and don't rub." And if you do experience itchiness, dryness, or contact lens discomfort, talk to your eye doc. He or she can address the underlying issue.(For 2,476 smart, simple ways to stay healthy for life, check out The Better Man Project—the brand-new book from the Editor in Chief of Men's Health. You'll find cool life hacks from doctors to improve your health, fitness, nutrition, sex, and more!)
5. Your MouthRecent research from the U.K. found that people put their fingers on or around their mouths an average of 23.6 times per hour when they were bored at work. And they still did it 6.3 times an hour when they were busy! That's a problem: In a landmark study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, a third to a quarter of germs tested transferred from study subjects' fingers to their mouths. Maybe you should think about stealing your kid's pacifier.
6. The Inside of Your NoseQuit digging for gold: In a 2006 study of ear, nose, and throat patients published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, nose pickers were 51% more likely to carry Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their schnozzes than those who kept their hands off.
7. The Skin Under Your NailsLots of nasty bacteria, including staph, can live there. "Your nails should be short to reduce the chances of bacterial carriage, and such nails only need a gentle nail brush to remove debris and often," says David De Berker, MRCP, consultant dermatologist at the British Dermatology Center."Picking tends to create trauma in its own right," he says, "and then any bacteria or yeast can cause further problems—sometimes resulting in a pattern called onycholysis, where the nail lifts off the nail bed."