For those who live below the poverty line in the United States, hygiene is a luxury. In a survey from Feeding America, these impoverished individuals still rank hygiene products, such as shampoo and hand soap, as essential.
And yet when push comes to shove, they make hygiene tradeoffs, such as showering without shampoo or soap, delaying diaper changes, or brushing their teeth without toothpaste.
On the flip side, some households choose to purchase less food in a month to make room in their budget for hygiene products. But they’ve traded one hardship for another.
Hygiene poverty has severe adverse repercussions for many Americans, but it’s one we have an opportunity to work together to solve.
What is hygiene poverty?
Hygiene poverty is defined as an inability to afford everyday hygiene products, such as shampoo, toilet paper, grooming products, dish soap, etc. Each poverty-stricken individual and family might experience hygiene poverty differently, but some of the hardships they face can include:
- Inability to take a shower with shampoo, conditioner and soap
- Using an old toothbrush because you can’t afford a new one and foregoing toothpaste
- Choosing between shaving cream and a razor or deodorant to prepare for a job interview
- Cleaning clothes less frequently or with water only due to lack of laundry detergent
- Paying utility bills instead of purchasing deodorant
- Not changing your child’s diaper for long periods or scraping out the contents and reapplying the diaper because you can’t afford more than one per day
- Fear of leaving your home during your period because your makeshift solutions leak and could embarrass you
- Feeling judged because your home is not clean because you can’t afford cleaning supplies
The everyday products and items that we take for granted are products that those in poverty long for.
How hygiene benefits those in poverty
Hygiene poverty tends to be a vicious cycle. Once a person falls into it, they face challenges in digging out. Without proper hygiene, adults struggle to find employment because they can’t put their best foot forward during job interviews and children struggle to succeed in school.
Poor hygiene for children can actually lead to death. In fact, across the globe, 800 children die every day from preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation or hygiene practices.
According to this study, lack of hygiene product availability can also make chronic illnesses worse. The study states: “Limited access to sanitation may also exacerbate chronic diseases, such as HIV or diabetes, by posing barriers to treatment adherence."
And lack of hygiene can have life-long effects on a person’s self-worth and self-respect. This means that children who grow up in hygiene poverty households can struggle to end the cycle of poverty through successful employment after starting life on rocky ground.
Access to hygiene products can help entire households improve their quality of life and even find their way out of poverty. The impacts are immense and families are waiting for someone to help them.