The ubiquity of the antibacterials in soaps “is a worrying thing,” lead researcher Dr. Eli N. Perencevich of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, told the media at a meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in New Orleans. He said at the level of usage of antibacterial soap in the typical home, bacteria could easily develop that would be resistant to both antibiotics and the antibacterial soaps themselves.
About 75 percent of liquid antibacterial soaps and 30 percent of bars use a chemical called triclosan as an active ingredient. The drug, which was originally used strictly in hospital settings, was adopted by manufacturers of soaps and other home products during the 1990s, eventually ballooning into an industry that’s worth an estimated $1 billion. Apart from soap, we’ve begun putting the chemical in wipes, hand gels, cutting boards, mattress pads and all sorts of home items as we try our best to eradicate any trace of bacteria from our environment.
1. The soaps could 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, perhaps because it chemically resembles the hormone closely enough that it can bind to its receptor sites. If this is the case in humans, too, there are worries that it could lead to problems such as infertility, artificially-advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer.
These same effects haven’t yet been found in humans, but the FDA calls the animal studies “a concern”—and notes that, given the minimal benefits of long-term triclosan use, it’s likely not worth the risk.
2. Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria On the Rise
Recent research about the effect antibacterial soaps and cleansers have shows some alarming connections to new superbugs that we’re unable to protect ourselves against. With antibacterial products stripping away all germs, even the good germs, we don’t naturally build resistance to new bacteria. This results in the possibility of new bugs threatening our health because our body is unable to fight them off. Many experts believe antibacterial products open the door for new types of bacteria to emerge that are resistant to certain medications, specifically antibiotics. These new superbugs are a danger to public health.
3. Increased Allergies
One of the main reasons parents use antibacterial products is to protect their children. Advertising campaigns have been effective in making parents worry about the germs and bacteria their kids come in contact with, leading parents to equip themselves with several types of antibacterial products. But you may be doing more harm than good – triclosan has been linked to causing increased allergies in children. How? The reduced exposure to bacteria can affect the development of a child’s immune system, making them more susceptible to certain allergies. Regularly using antibacterials soaps and cleansers may in fact do the opposite of protecting your children.
4. Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than conventional soap and water
As mentioned in the announcement, 42 years of FDA research—along with countless independent studies—have produced no evidence that triclosan provides any health benefits as compared to old-fashioned soap.
“I suspect there are a lot of consumers who assume that by using an antibacterial soap product, they are protecting themselves from illness, protecting their families,” Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s drug center, told the AP. “But we don’t have any evidence that that is really the case over simple soap and water.”
5. Healthy Bacteria Is Killed, Too
Antibacterial soaps and cleansers are designed to kill bacteria that isn’t good for your body before it reaches unsafe levels. But these antibacterial products also kill the good bacteria – bacteria that can help prevent other bacteria from spreading and that helps you build a natural resistance to bad bacteria. Killing 99.9% of germs, something that many antibacterial product manufacturers use as their main selling feature, is deceiving when some of those germs help strengthen your immune system. So it’s hard to say these cleansers are good for you when they get rid of the good stuff too.
6. Triclosan Used In Pesticides
The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are collaborating on regulatory issues related to triclosan. It’s found in many brands of toothpaste, mouthwash, hand and body wash, as well as baby products. And the danger shouldn’t be ignored, especially since the EPA regulates triclosan in the use of pesticides. That’s right – you could be brushing your teeth and covering your body with a chemical that the EPA is reviewing its use of in pesticides. The chemical is absorbed through the skin and mouth much more easily than originally thought, and it makes you wonder why we would chance the possible health risks and environmental damage associated with the chemical.
7. Possible Hormone Imbalances
With the antibacterial product market being as vast as it is, more research has been done recently that studies the effect these products may have on hormones. A lot of tests have been done on animals and the results are alarming – triclosan, an ingredient in many antibacterial products, has proven to be an endocrine disruptor. The endocrine system produces and releases hormones and other products into your bloodstream. The disruption that triclosan has on animals affects estrogen, testosterone and thyroid levels. Experts believe women and children are most at risk for potential hormone imbalances from antibacterial products.
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