Embarrassing Health Habits That Are Actually Good for You

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Let’s face it. We all have a few embarrassing habits — from skipping showers to smelling our armpits— that we’re mortified to be caught doing. “From an evolutionary perspective, people are ashamed to display intimate behavior or self-groom because of what it may signal to the outside world,” Joseph Pinzone, MD, an internist and endocrinologist in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Health. “We subconsciously fear if we’re seen checking for a problem, it means we’re suffering from it.” But many of our so-called dirty quirks also advisable, and can even be good for us. Here are five habits you can continue, guilt-free.

Smelling armpits: “It’s good to be aware of changes in body odor because it can sometimes signal a medical problem,” Jeanine Downie, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey, tells Yahoo Health. “For example, if your sweat suddenly smells briny, almost like beer, that could indicate a kidney problem.” A more common cause of changes in body odor: stress. “When you’re anxious, the adrenal glands release the hormone Cortisol, which, when mixed with hormones, produces a stronger-smelling scent,” she says. So, if you’re suddenly producing a more pungent odor, it may be time for a vacation.

Belching: Gross as it sounds, releasing a Homer Simpson-sized burp is a totally normal physiological response to ingesting too much air during meals and the act releases discomfort, helping us feel less full, says Pinzone. Belching may also aid digestion and relieve symptoms such as nausea and heartburn. It could even be a sign of a healthy diet since nutritious foods such as beans, dairy products, vegetables, and whole grains are usually the culprits. 

Skipping showers: Barring an intense workout, is it really so bad to forgo a day of washing, here or there? Not really. Like the gut, our skin contains good bacteria that don’t necessarily need to be scrubbed away, Richard Gallo, MD, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California, San Diego, told the New York Times. Ditto for hair washing: Some dermatologists argue that daily lathers remove oils that protect the hair shaft and keep the scalp moisturized; others say most people’s hair simply doesn’t require daily shampoos.

Talking to yourself: Not only do most people have a chat with themselves once in a while, those one-on-ones serve a useful purpose. A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology found that talking to themselves helps people locate items such as lost car keys, specifically when they repeat a relevant word. For example, when study subjects were asked to find a bottle of Diet Coke on cluttered supermarket shelves, muttering the word “Coke” helped them find it more quickly. “Objects and the words for them are linked in our minds,” co-study author Daniel Swingley, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Yahoo Health. “The use of the word reinforces those connections, helping us see them more clearly. It also helps to have a mental image of the item you’re seeking.”

Picking earwax: Ears are “self-cleaning,” and wax tends to dry and fall out on its own, yet many people glean satisfaction from cleaning their ears, due to feel-good nerve endings inside the canal. Most doctors advise against picking — especially with a Q-tip which can push earwax further into the canal — however, there are cases in which it’s advisable to clean out your ears. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (the field of ear, nose, and throat), if too much wax accumulates, it can cause earaches, tinnitus (ringing sounds), itching, coughing, even partial hearing loss. The key is to wash the external parts of the ear with a warm washcloth or, better yet, have the wax professionally removed.