People seem to have this incessant fear of germs. Commercials on TV tell us about all the germs living on our kitchen counters; when you go to the grocery stores, they have wipe dispensers to clean off the grocery cart handles; we spray our homes with deodorizing aerosols that kill germs floating in the air – all in the name of protecting us from these so-called deadly germs that just might cause the next Great Plague.
One of the largest selling products on the market, to the tune of about $1billion annually, is anti-bacterial soap. The active ingredient in this soap, and many wipe products, is triclosan, which manufacturers call “safe and effective”. But is it really? Here are five reasons why you should avoid products with this chemical:
1. No more effective than using just plain old soap and water. Countless independent studies have not produced any evidence that triclosan provides any health benefits compared to using good old-fashioned soap. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s drug center says, “ …there are a lot of consumers who assume that by using an antibacterial soap product, they are protecting themselves from illness, but we don’t have any evidence that this is the case over simple soap and water”.
2. Does not kill viruses. Many people think that using these products protects them from seasonal colds and flus, however, triclosan kills bacteria, not viruses.
3. Have the potential to create antibiotic resistant bacteria. It is already an well known fact that bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics which the World Health Organization calls a “threat to global health security.” Health officials say that more research is necessary to find out if triclosan is contributing to this problem, but several studies are already hinted at this possibility.
4. Can act as endocrine disruptors. A number of studies have found that in rats, frogs, and other animals, triclosan appears to interfere with the body’s regulation of thyroid hormone. If this is the case in humans, there are worries that it could lead to problems such as infertility, artificially-advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer.
5. The soaps might lead to other problems as well. There is evidence that children with prolonged exposure to triclosan have a higher chance of developing allergies including peanut allergies and hayfever. The reason is that triclosan reduces their exposure to bacteria that is necessary to develop a proper functioning immune system. Another study has found that triclosan inhibits muscle activity in individual heart cells and skeletal muscle cells which can exacerbate heart problems in people with underlying conditions. This is especially concerning because other studies have found that the chemical can penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream much easier than previously thought. 75% of people tested have triclosan in their urine.
6. Anti-bacterial soaps are bad for the environment. If you are washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap, this means it is getting washed down the drain. Apparently the chemical can survive treatment at the sewage plant and USGS surveys have found it in streams and other bodies of water. Once in the environment, triclosan can disrupt algae’s ability to carry out photosynthesis . Also, it has been detected in the blood of bottle-nose dolphins, meaning that it is entering the food chain.
The FDA has given manufacturers until 2016 to pull their products from the shelves, since they have not been able to prove that triclosan has no ill effect in human health. In the meantime, to protect yourself and your families, make sure that the soap products you purchase are not “anti-bacterial” containing Triclosan. Soap by it’s nature kills bacteria, you don’t need any other chemicals added to it. Also, if you are away from home and you aren’t sure about the soap in the public restrooms, carry a bottle of non-antibiotic hand sanitizer like Purel to wash your hands. Purel uses regular alcohol to kill bacteria and viruses.
If you are worried about catching some deadly disease from some kamikaze germ flying around you, keep in mind that plagues were spread because of lousy sanitation. During the Middle Ages, people only bathed maybe once a year, they didn’t have running water or sewage control, and they lived in cramped living spaces. It’s not hard to imagine how bubonic plague spread so fast. In those populations where people bathed, the plague was not as much of a problem. And those who bathed used soap – triclosan had not been invented yet.