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More on Keeping Your Mucous Membranes Healthy
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
Just wanted to elaborate on this topic to address some of the more common questions that I've received in response to my post on why you shouldn't use soap to clean your anus or urethral opening.
Mucous membranes line the following areas of your body:
- Urethra (where your urine comes out of)
- Lips and oral cavity
- Middle ear region
- Nasal passageway
The mucous membranes that line each of these regions are continuous with your skin. All of your mucous membranes line areas of your body that are exposed to the outside world and/or internal organs.
Can you imagine washing your mouth out with soap every morning? How about your nasal passageways or the undersides of your eyelids? Assuming that you've tasted soap by accident at some point in your life, I trust that you agree that soap and mucous membranes aren't a good match.
Mucous membranes are not meant to come into regular contact with soap, or for that matter, any detergents that are hydrophobic enough to dissolve nonpolar molecules of grease (excuse the jargon from high school chemistry).
Your skin can handle some contact with soap because sebaceous glands that line your skin secrete a steady supply of sebum, an oily substance that helps create a waterproof barrier and protect you against infection. Constant production of sebum allows your skin to survive regular exposure to soap, though excessive use of soap (and all factors that contribute to dehydration of your body) necessitate use of moisturizers to prevent your skin from becoming too dry.
Your mucous membranes don't produce and secrete sebum to offer protection against the drying effects of soap and detergents. This is why regular contact with soap can cause a wide variety of health challenges in and around your mucous membranes, some of the more common challenges being cracks around the corners of the lips, anal fissures, lichen sclerosus, and a tendency to experience recurrent infections around mucous membranes.
My experience has been that very few people know to avoid using soap to wash their private areas. So I make it a point to share this information with just about all of my clients, especially those who have young children to care for.
All parents and grandparents know that in cleaning a baby that has pooped in his or her diaper, the instinct is to use soapy water to thoroughly clean the entire groin region, especially the perineum and anal sphincter. Unless these areas are being moisturized with a non-toxic moisturizer after every such cleaning, it's almost a certainty that itchiness, dryness, and/or chronic inflammation will ensue. I believe that this is the main reason why so many babies and toddlers instinctively scratch at their anal sphincters - they are itchy from excessive dryness.
For adults, young children, and babies alike, the best cleaning agent for private areas is warm or hot water, and if needed, a small towel that has enough texture to help remove waste and grime.
If you're out and about and have to clean a poopy bum, moist wipes are an effective cleaning solution that shouldn't lead to excessive dryness.
Since we're on this topic, one other bit of advice to parents and grandparents: Don't take it for granted that your children instinctively know to wipe from front to back after a pee or poo. You must teach them to always wipe from front to back to minimize the risk of having bacteria from the rectal region create a urinary tract infection. Though more common in girls because of the difference in anatomy, it's not unheard of for a boy to experience a urinary tract infection due to "back to front" wiping.
Wipe from front to back after pee or poo. Write it on the kitchen board or better yet, on a sticky that's posted by every toilet used by your youngsters until it's habit.
Please share this information with family and friends who may not be aware of these tips on self health care.
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