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4 Steps to becoming a reformed germaphobe

How I'm learning to get over my germaphobia

There's nothing like the words "flesh-eating bacteria" that make me want to go all Silkwood in the shower.

Fast-forward 32 years, and I can't walk into a public place without using a free-standing Purell sanitizer, wiping my shopping cart down with Lysol or whipping out triclosan-laden products while using a public restroom. I wear the term "germophobe" with pride — but that's all about to change.

As a New Year's resolution, I have vowed to cut back on my sterilizing ways to make myself and family healthier and more, well, natural.

By starting on the Paleo diet a few months ago, our pantry is almost empty of boxes with processed food and the fridge is filled with fresh, healthier choices. I've changed my daily juicing habits from sweet fruit drinks to kale, celery and turmeric combos that are a better alternative, but admittedly not as tasty.

So, in staying with the movement towards a cleaner lifestyle — probiotics, supplements, natural remedies and way less antibiotics — I'm turning my attention to the body's biggest organ and its inhabitants.

Skin flora, microbiota and microbiome are buzz words used to describe the inhabitants of our skin. I know them as bacteria, fungi and mites — yes, mites. The peacekeepers of our epidermis that work together to protect us from pathogens, control inflammation, fight allergens and free radicals and can even repel mosquitoes (although mine are a little lacking on that last one).

These are the same microorganisms that I aggravate on a daily basis with anti-aging, acne-fighting and anti-bacterial products. And to think, scientists are working on these same microbiota to hopefully cure diseases of the skin and even heal wounds that don't respond to antibiotics.

Yet, every time I take a shower, millions of these co-inhabitants are killed off, which is not a good thing.

Researching the best way to live in harmony with these tiny protectors, I turned to the popular blog It Takes Time, which breaks down natural, healthy living for novices like myself. In four easy steps, I can protect and possibly rebuild my microbiome.

Step 1: Bathe less

When I read this to my husband, he shot me "the look." It's that same look he gave me when I recently announced we should live on Mackinac Island during the winter — just for fun. He then reminded me our shower is filled with two shampoos, one conditioner, one deep conditioner, three different bars of soap, two different liquid soaps, two different types of face wash and a scrub brush. I obviously have a thing for being clean.

Step 2: Go natural

Uh-oh. If you think my shower is crowded, you have no idea how I manage to stuff all my beauty, body and germ-fighting products into such small cabinets. Did I mention my three different types of deodorants? I have hot flashes, stop judging.

Step 3: Apply probiotics

Yay! This I can do: I'm the queen of probiotics — for my gut that is. My fridge resembles my shower with different types of probiotics for this, that and the other thing — surely they will help my skin. However, Andrea (blogger of It Takes Time) is referring to topical probiotics. Apparently, by applying ammonia oxidizing bacteria (try AOB created by Mother Dirt) onto my skin regularly, my skin's microorganisms will flourish. She also recommends: "Applying properly prepared fermented products like cream kefir, Kombucha or even natto can go a long way to restoring the proper skin flora balance." Well, that sounds easy enough!

Step 4: Avoid super sterile

Oh boy. This means breaking up with my long love affair of germ-killing products. Did I mention I wash my dishes in bleach? To my defense, I grew up with the "bleach water cleans everything" mentality from my mother. She is currently 90 years old, so if it hasn't affected her yet, it can't be that bad.

I might have to be realistic and take this in baby steps. This isn't like the Paleo diet and banishing cereal from the house. (Confession: There is still a box in the basement, but for emergency purposes only!) These are life-learned habits I will slowly try and change for the good of my health and the health of my family.

Looking for a way to ease into this lifestyle change, I discovered some alternatives that I can start with on Mark's Daily Apple blog that has some amazing recommendations for how to support healthy skin bacteria.

And remember, bacteria on your skin is a good thing. Embrace it (and them) for better health.

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