Poor hygiene is pretty much unacceptable in most cultures. But does insecurity lead people to disregard this rule, or does bad hygiene lead to insecurity?

Jon Bradley/Getty Images

Remember Pig-Pen, that lovable character from the Peanuts comics who seemed to always walk around in filthy overalls and cloud of dust and dirt? No matter how hard he tried, he simply could not -- or would not -- stay clean. He was even chosen to participate in an experiment testing how hygiene applies in zero gravity; unfortunately, grime seemed to be magnetically attracted to him.

Poor hygiene is no laughing matter for some individuals. In many cultures, poor hygiene is considered unacceptable. Those with dirty clothes, unkempt hair or unpleasant body odor are often shunned, resulting in issues at school, work, and in personal relationships. It can also cause serious health problems, spreading germs that cause illness and diseases that can range from the common cold to athlete's foot. Poor oral hygiene can lead to bad breath and cavities, not to mention compromised dental health.

Poor hygiene can be caused by a number of factors. For some, it's simply a lack of knowledge or access to the proper facilities. Many parents assume their pre-teens will naturally learn how to take care of themselves as they get older, but they may need to be reminded about the importance of showering, washing hair, and using deodorant or antiperspirant. Older adults may simply forget to take proper care of themselves, or they may become physically unable to carry on their daily routine.

Fear and disdain of the unknown -- yes, even something as simple as proper washing techniques -- can lead to insecurity. Can this insecurity lead to poor hygiene? That's a challenging "chicken or egg" question. Some individuals who feel insecure may use poor hygiene as "shield" to avoid having to deal with others, participate in certain activities or maintain a job. On the other hand, if you're uncomfortable with the way you look or smell, poor hygiene can cause you to feel insecure and unable to focus on your work or studies, and may even lead to depression [source: AOLHealth].

Those who suffer from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) due to emotional events or nervousness can definitely feel more insecure and self-conscious due to the wet underarms or clothing caused by the condition. However, it's important to realize that poor hygiene is not a direct cause of the excessive sweating, although good hygiene, such as frequent bathing or wearing deodorant or antiperspirant, can help ease the sweating or at least keep unpleasant odors from developing.

Often, poor hygiene can be a symptom of a more serious health or emotional issue. Some people may find the task of taking care of themselves every day to be too overwhelming or it's simply not a concern or priority. A feeling of low self worth or self confidence can cause some problems to worsen. Alcoholism, depression, postpartum depression and drug abuse all list poor hygiene as one of their symptoms [source: AOLHealth].

If someone you care about shows signs of poor hygiene, there are several ways to get help. Gently suggest ways to learn about good personal habits, encourage a visit to a doctor to rule out any serious problems, or help older adults find assistance in caring for themselves.

Feeling good about yourself is one of the benefits of good personal hygiene, and that's a positive step toward overcoming any insecurities.