Hygiene is important, but it is recommended not to exaggerate, both in terms of personal cleanliness and the environment in which we live. Professor Antonio Costanzo, Head of Dermatology in Humanitas, spoke about skin cleansing in an interview.
“Excessive attention to cleansing can damage our skin because it is a tissue that, by its very nature, has learned to defend itself against many types of infection. Antimicrobial proteins, called antimicrobial peptides, have recently been discovered to regulate the proliferation of bacteria on the skin. On our epidermis, therefore, there is a whole bacterial flora made up of many microorganisms, kept in perfect balance by these peptides,” explains Prof. Costanzo.
There are two types of bacterial flora: the resident one is generally harmless and improves the barrier capacity of the skin; while its perfect balance is able to hinder the growth of pathogenic microbes. Transient bacterial flora, on the other hand, is potentially more dangerous and colonizes our body by contact with objects or people, which could even pass harmful germs.
Risk of excessive cleaning
In an attempt to get rid of the transient bacterial flora, however, there is a risk of eliminating the resident bacterial flora, including peptides, which are responsible for this delicate and valuable balance. This is what happens if you wash your hands too often with soap, especially if it is not necessary, or if you are constantly using portable disinfectants, which are harmful even for children.
The more you wash yourself, the more you change the structural nature of your skin and destroy good micro-organisms, with the risk of being even more exposed to infections, dermatitis and allergies. The same goes for the domestic environment, if you try to live in an almost sterile environment, our natural defense system no longer knows how to behave and often, to survive, it attacks false enemies, thus favoring the onset of allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Cleaning the skin
Green light to the daily shower, but without diluting too much under water (maximum five minutes) to avoid drying the skin. The water must not be too hot; otherwise it extracts too much fat from the epidermis and impoverishes its hydrolipidic structure, another important barrier against microbes.
“Oily skin can be cleansed a little more often, precisely because these glands produce a lot of fat, replacing the fat lost in washing “.
“Dry skin, which is poorer in protective sebum, must be treated with less aggression. Detergents should be preferred without rinsing as well as avoiding alcoholic tonics, and protecting yourself with moisturizing and restorative creams. Oils, for example, are much more recommended than regular soaps,” comments the professor.
Yes to cleansing, but without becoming manic
“In principle, we should try to promote these epidermis balances without damaging antimicrobial flora. In addition to this, there is the continuous stimulation of immunity, which would be able to prevent allergies. Several studies have shown that less washed children are also the ones most resistant to allergies in general: according to this theory, antimicrobial flora would have trained the body’s natural defenses to react correctly to external stimuli “.
In order to preserve healthy flora, it is therefore necessary to clean the house, but without being manic, to use antibiotics carefully (especially in the youngest ones) and to encourage children to play in the open air, in contact with the earth and animals.
“However, let us be guided by common sense. One thing is to see your child approaching a fox just outside the forest; another is to see him playing with the neighbors’ dog, which is probably healthy and vaccinated. A normal, well-kept pet is a completely harmless and, indeed, an important and fun companion. Parents should allow their children to play with animals, precisely in order to strengthen their natural defenses, without too much fear. Then, before taking a seat at the table, everyone washes their hands as usual,” concludes Prof. Costanzo.