School is in session and flu season is just around the corner. Dorms and locker rooms are full of germs and a new respiratory virus is making headlines. If you’re thinking of reaching for that antibacterial hand sanitizer or soap to protect yourself, you may want to think twice. Yes, it might keep the germs away, but at a risk.
It’s been 35 years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration elected to eliminate the chemical called triclosan from soaps. But, the FDA has failed to enforce or even formalize those 1978 recommendations so the unnecessary and possibly unsafe ingredient is virtually everywhere, particularly in antibacterial soaps.
Under the proposed FDA guidelines, manufacturers will have to prove that the chemicals in their products are safe and, somewhat even more importantly and problematic for them, that they’re more effective than soap and water. If they can’t verify both of these claims, they will have to reformulate their product, remove the antibacterial claim from their product, or remove it entirely from the market.
Research after research shows that triclosan could interfere with our hormone levels and may even artificially increase the effects of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, resulting in increased possibilities of breast and prostate cancers. In animal studies, the chemical has been shown to affect metabolism, brain development, sperm count, the onset of puberty, heart function, infertility, and weaken skeletal muscle. Altered behavior, learning disabilities, and even resistance to antibiotics are also common results of triclosan studies.
Originally created for use in hospitals to protect patients with weak immune systems from disease-causing bacteria, antibacterial cleansers can actually significantly decrease natural body bacterial resistance when used in healthy households. Think about this: levels of asthma, eczema, and allergies increase in homes that are overly protected against germs. A person’s immune system must learn how to respond to disease-causing bacteria in order to have proper balance and germ-fighting stimulation. More infections in early childhood may actually lead to a decreased number of allergic reactions. Today’s kids are so germ free they are always sick and dangerous bacteria are developing antibiotic resistance, resulting in what many are calling a global health crisis.
So why use it? I guess because it’s easy and it’s everywhere and it’s kinda hard to avoid products that promise to kill bacteria, right? You’re probably not surprised to know that triclosan is found in most standard cleaning products, but did you know that products ranging from lipstick to toothpaste, body washes to shaving cream, make-up to cutting boards, and shoes to powders have all been shown to have traces of triclosan in them? In fact, “Scientific American” magazine reports that triclosan was measured in 75 percent of Americans sampled. That’s a lot of Americans!
And don’t for a minute think that by mixing the two – antibacterial cleansers and plain ole soap – that you are getting twice as clean, as triclosan becomes less effective when combined with soap! Experts worldwide agree that hand washing is the most effective way to prevent bacteria, germs, and disease and the longer you wash your hands, the more successful you become at killing bacteria. In fact, the Mayo Clinic says there is no proof that washing your hands with antibacterial cleansers kills any more germs than regular soap. And, there is no data that has proven that using antibacterial cleansers in your home is of any benefit over using standard cleaning supplies.
Guess I will stop looking for that “antibacterial” claim on dish soaps and household cleaners, but I will probably still carry a small bottle in my purse to use only in those dire situations where soap or water are not available. I’ve even heard that simply quickly rubbing your hands together under water will kill most germs so soap isn’t always necessary. Like anything else, moderation is the key.
I am not a doctor or an expert, just a blogger sharing information with you. My advice: use antibacterial products wisely and use them sparingly and opt for plain soap when given the choice.