Best of Mental Health 2022: Quick Clean

Depression can steal your motivation to shower—and sometimes even brush your teeth. These smart cleansers for skin, hair, mouth, and home help with hygiene and self-esteem.

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You won’t likely find “showers in frequently” or “brushes teeth once a week” on symptom lists and treatment guidelines for depression, an oversight called out in a 2021 study published in the journal Health and Social Care. Based on in-depth interviews with patients, personal hygiene was often “an integral aspect of their depression, which negatively impacted recovery.”

Why does it happen? “Daily activities can become difficult, even overwhelming, when someone is feeling depressed or anxious,” says Lori Davis, Psy.D., clinical instructor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “It’s not that they are trying to be irresponsible or messy. They just don’t have the physical or mental energy, or the focus.” 

In fact, while participating in an experimental drug treatment for her depression, one Mental writer asked the medical assistant what she considered the toughest part about a depression study. “It’s so hard for depressed people to even get here to get this treatment,” she responded. “They can’t bring themselves to shower, as well.” 

Which brings us to two points: First, let this be a reminder that, if lethargy has sapped your will to groom, you are not alone. There’s nothing shameful or lazy going on. It’s an actual symptom of your mental health condition, even if it’s not in the DSM.

Second, as the Health and Social Care researchers wrote, “Difficulties with personal hygiene and grooming presented both a barrier to recovery and an opportunity for timely and salient intervention.” That’s what this list of winners aims to be—salient interventions, however modest, that can boost both hygiene and self-esteem.

All products featured on Mental have been selected independently and editorially. When you buy from our links, we may earn a commission.

Face Wipes

For Face and Eye Makeup
Yes to Cucumbers Facial Wipes, $18.87        

When a sink scrub isn’t in the cards, these 98 percent natural, very gentle wipes are moist enough for a good cleanse without leaving behind a greasy residue. Organic extracts of cucumber, aloe, and green tea soothe and cool, and the garden-fresh scent is a small win when you’re so low. Stash the pack on a bedside table so they’re nearby when you need ’em.

If You’re Acne-Prone
Neutrogena Pink Grapefruit Oil-Free Cleansing Wipes, $12.97

They’re both the OG of anti-acne wipes and the top anti-acne wipes of 2022. Infused with salicylic acid, they work by sloughing away dead skin cells to unclog pores, and decreasing sebum production to help prevent future zits. Grapefruit extract acts as an additional light exfoliant, but really it’s there for the uplifting vibes. 

Body Wipes
Bioderma Sensibio H20 Wipes, $11 

Sometimes you feel so down you literally can’t get out of bed. Laying there feeling gross, you may wish it were possible for someone else to shower for you, but these refreshing micellar water wipes are the next best thing. They remove makeup, wash away dirt and oil, and don’t require a post-cleanse rinse. “Most wipes formulated for the face are tested so they’re  hypoallergenic. That means they’re safe for the face, body, and even sensitive areas,” says Dendy Engleman, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who likes these. “There’s nothing in them that would irritate your skin or make you break out.”

They’re even biodegradeable, so you can skip the environmental guilt. As with your face wipes, keep them on your nightstand and do what you need to do to get through today, at least hygienically. Maybe you’ll wake up inspired to take a shower tomorrow.

Long-Lasting Deodorant
DermaDoctor Med E Tate Antiperspirant Wipes, $50 for 30

There’s no way around it: It sucks when you start to smell yourself. Along with body wipes, a potent underarm formula can help thwart the odor. You’ll find a number of new, no-sweat pit products on shelves, but here, older is wiser. Born in 2009, DermaDoctor’s antiperspirant wipes rock for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re like bodyguards for your pits. According to a 2022 study, one of the two best sweat-slowing ingredients is aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glycine, which DermaDoctor contains at an impressive 19 percent concentration (the highest over-the-counter amount allowed by the FDA is 20). The study authors also concluded that glycine, part of the DD compound, may also enhance efficacy. What’s it all mean? These. Work. They keep one tester with hyperhydrosis (a condition that causes excessive sweating) dry for the full day; others find one wipe tides them over for a few days.
  • They don’t treat your pits like the pits. There’s a kindness movement afoot—ya heard? Like so many of us, underarm skin can be sensitive, and these towelettes are free of potential irritants: no fragrance, dyes, or oils.
  • They dry you out the right way. Some maximum-strength antiperspirants also have a maximum parching effect. Thanks to excellent hydrators—including glycerine and butylene glycol, both humectants—these keep your skin’s surface from becoming rough and Sahara-like.

Tip: Apply them at night, “when your sweat glands are less active and your body has time to fully absorb the sweat-blocking ingredients,” says Dr. Engleman. And if you find them a tad expensive, at 4″x5″, they’re big enough to cut in half, store the unused piece in a Ziploc, and double your wipes. 

Electric Toothbrush
Oral-B iO Series 5 Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush, $119.99 

Poor oral health is linked to all variety of other physical ails, from heart disease to rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. But not taking care of your mouth is a mental issue, too: A 2019 study found that patients with depression are at greater risk of teeth and gum issues. That’s often because when you’re in the pit of despair, even brushing your teeth can be hard to do. It’s important to set yourself up when you’re feeling okay so you can keep yourself healthy when you’re at your lowest.

“The most fundamental part of a dental hygiene routine is mechanical plaque removal,” says Marina Gonchar, D.M.D., orthodontist and co-owner of the Skin to Smile practice in Morristown, New Jersey. “For patients suffering from depression and lacking the energy to brush their teeth, leave a toothbrush in the shower, leave it by the bed, and leave it by the kitchen sink, maximizing the chances of doing the task simultaneously with other tasks. Toothpaste is not even the most crucial part of brushing, so if you need to dry brush that will be more effective in mechanical plaque removal compared to nothing at all.”

Dentists believe electric toothbrushes, particularly those programmed to move on their own, take a bit of the effort off of you. They also “clean more bacteria and plaque off the teeth than manual toothbrushes,” says dentist Rhonda Kalasho, D.M.D., CEO of TruGlo Modern Dentistry in California. (Proof: A review of 56 studies showed that electric brushes eliminate more plaque and reduce gingivitis better than manual ones.) 

This Oral-B model hits all the sweet spots. It oscillates and vibrates (more effective than vibrations alone), and has a pressure sensor, which Dr. Gonchar says “alerts you if you are using too much force to brush your teeth and gums, which can lead to gingival recession.” Adds Dr. Kalasho: “Oral-B toothbrushes have just the right thickness of bristle, size of the bristle head, and ideal movement to remove the most amount of plaque.”

It’s also a fave of a few friends with depression. “This Oral-B brush has made a surprising difference in my nightly ritual,” one artist tells us. “I used to feel like I was brushing just to brush, thinking about my to-do list before heading off to bed. Unfortunately, over the years, this resulted in brushing my teeth and gums much too hard, leading to irreversible gum recession.” The brush’s pressure sensor, she says, “indicates when you are pushing too hard, bringing me back into the moment and making me more mindful of my body.”

Mouthwash When You Can’t Brush
Oxyfresh Cavity Protection Fresh Mint Anticavity Mouthwash, $12.30 

“For really bad times when brushing my teeth feels like too much, my dentist recommended swishing with Oxyfresh,” says one reader who has gone through periods of severe depression. This rinse may not look special, but appearances don’t matter here. (In fact, says Dr. Kalasho, it’s best if your rinse doesn’t have coloring “so it doesn’t dye the teeth.” Color, she adds, “is not necessary.”)

“Mouth rinses keep the tissue healthy in the oral cavity, as well as reduce the acidity level in the mouth,” says Dr. Kalasho, and Oxyfresh contains two important ingredients that may help thwart cavities and gum inflammation. The first is fluoride, “definitively known to prevent cavity formation and even re-mineralize very small cavities on the outer surface of the tooth,” says Dr. Gonchar. Fluoride likes to linger (in a good way): “It will stay around the oral cavity longer and do its job,” says Dr. Kalasho.

The other Oxyfresh advantage? No alcohol! Ok, that’s not the biggie, but it is worth noting, as alcohol is a dehydrator that  can actually increase the risk of cavity development,” says Dr. Kalasho. The big winner is an ingredient called oxygene, better known as chlorine dioxide. “Chloride dioxide is a disinfectant, and its role is to lower the bacterial load in the oral cavity,” says Dr. Gonchar. “The bad bacterial load determines if you will suffer from gum inflammation and eventually periodontal disease and excessive amounts of decay or cavities.”

And while Oxyfresh may not be a looker, it is a taster. Peppermint oil and xylitol (a sugar-free sweetener) keep it crisp and minty, not medicinal. 

Although mouthwash, says Dr. Kalasho, “keeps the tissue healthy in the oral cavity, as well as reduces the acidity level in the mouth,” both dentists stress that, on its own, it’s a short-term solution—and that the most crucial part of dental care is manual removal of plaque and bacteria with a toothbrush. (See: Oral-B, above.)

Dry Shampoo
R+Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo, $36 

When washing your hair is too overwhelming, a good dry shampoo is helpful. A great dry shampoo? Essential. This one is pricier than most, but after testing dozens, we believe it’s worth it. Let us list the whys…

  1. It doesn’t discriminate between hair types. It really, truly, actually absorbs oil effectively on fine hair, thick hair, curls, you name it. 
  2. Blondes aren’t the only ones having fun. “Even on my dark brunette waves, it doesn’t leave a white film or dusty finish,” says one tester. (Note: This is incredibly rare.)
  3. Too many dry shamps engulf you in a cloud of scent so powdery, you’re instantly transported to the 18th century, where wigs were dusted, while on the head, with a bellows (a bellows!). Unpleasant on ye olde lungs. R+Co’s just smells fresh and clean
  4. It doesn’t make your scalp itch as some formulas can, and “somehow even makes my scalp feel less itchy between shampoos,” says one tester with anxiety and depression who tends to wash her hair just twice a week.
  5. It’s more than a dry shampoo. If you spray it at mid-lengths as well as roots and tousle it around, it’s a volumizer, too.
  6. It leaves hair soft, not starchy. That’s likely thanks to the formula’s conditioning panthenol and moisturizing rice protein.

Spritz tip: Aim the nozzle directly at roots about 10 to 12 inches away “to get the product to disperse, then brush it through to move the oils away from the scalp, where they concentrate,” says Matt Fugate, a hairstylist at Salon Kathleen in Enumclaw, Washington, who works with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jaimie Alexander. If you’re super oily, try applying it at night to let it soak up grease as you sleep.

Disposable Plates You Don’t Have to Feel Bad About
Ever Spring Sugarcane Plates, $3.99 for 20

One study found that washing dishes was a relaxing exercise in mindfulness. But when a pile of undone dishes overtakes the sink and starts spreading onto the countertop, it’s hard to see them as the path to enlightenment. In a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, women with unfinished chores had spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone, and increased depressed moods. That’s why we find these compostable sugarcane plates so sweet. On our lowest-motivation days, they keep kitchen mess to a minimum—and they don’t trash the earth, either.

Sponge That Gets It All
Scrub Daddy Colors, $9.99 for 3-pack 

A key sign of depression is losing interest in things you used to love—so it makes sense that household tasks you never loved might also fall by the wayside. Cleaning, in particular, can feel Herculean when you’re low on energy and motivation, and yet a mess can make you feel even worse. First, show yourself compassion: You’re dealing with a lot, and if the room gets cluttered, it’s ok. Next, take measures to make cleaning easier: Tidy up in small chunks of time, keep your supplies in one place, ask your partner or a friend to help. Another management tool? A cleaning gizmo that will make it quick and elbow-greaseless.

That’s where the Scrub Daddy comes in. “When a friend who is a hoarder was in the hospital, I cleaned their home,” shares one Mental contributor. (Research shows there is a strong link between hoarding and depression.) “Because my bestie’s floor was a minefield of shopping bags, empty bottles, and clothes, anything that fell on the floor—solid or liquid—was immediately buried.” Among the missing: a full bunch of grapes that had landed behind a couch and become an intact glob of raisins, and a two-liter soda that had spilled under a laundry basket. 

Inspired by TikToker NotTheWorstCleaner (a.k.a. Brogan Ingram)—a pro cleaner who provides three free cleanings a week to those struggling with their physical and mental health—our writer picked up a Scrub Daddy (or ten). “It has amazing scrubbing power but is still gentle enough to not scratch surfaces,” Ingram, who has 5 million TT followers, tells Mental. She has used them to tackle moldy sinks, crunchy stovetops, and gunky floors. (After she posted her first video using them, Scrub Daddy sent her free supplies.) 

Ingram’s tip: “At home, I color-code them for their different uses and areas.” Our writer was impressed by her rainbow supply’s true might. “Their texture is perfect for scraping up sticky spills that have been around a bit,” she says. “Plus, they’re just cheerful little guys.” You can wash them in the dishwasher and, when they’re truly spent, send them back to the company through their recycling program and get a coupon.

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Check Out Our Other Best of Mental Health 2022 Categories

I Just Cried (or: I Couldn’t Sleep)

It’s My Meds

Keep My Hands Busy

Bring Me Balance

Oh, Crap, I Have to Go Somewhere

Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down (But I Probably Should)

All Up In My Feelings

Block Out Distractions 

Help Me Stop Picking

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