THE CONTROVERSY OVER ANTIBACTERIAL SOAPS – Wash your hands – How many times as a child did we hear this gentle reminder? Since the late 1800’s when germs were first recognized we have been washing, disinfecting, sanitizing and sterilizing ourselves, our homes and as much of our lives as possible. Is it really necessary, or have we gone too far?
Controversy has arisen over Triclosan, the chemical used in the majority of anti-bacterial soaps and dish liquids. You might be surprised to learn that it can also be found in different brands of toothpaste. cosmetics, deodorant, shaving cream, kitchen ware, children’s toys, clothes, air filters, furniture, and paints. The list is greater and since there are no regulations or guidelines currently regarding its use, the amounts in each product vary.
What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is an organic compound that effectively kills 99.6% of germs. It has been used for over 3 decades as an addition to hand soaps and other products. It is beneficial in germ fighting because it is not water-soluble, meaning that when you rinse and dry your hands it leaves a film on the skin that continues to kill germs. Recently, it has been under the microscope and has spawned multiple studies by private research firms and organizations like the EPA and the FDA. Three decades ago, standards and limitations were a concern but have been continually delayed until lately as the results from these various organizations have been pouring in. The FDA is now being pressured by members of Congress and the public to set strict regulations regarding its use. A ban using any soap containing Triclosan in the food industry or in products marketed for children is also being considered.
Why should you be concerned?
A recent study by Dr. Ben Kim was released in the journal Aquatic Toxicology joining multiple articles chronicling data and test results which have proven that long term or excessive use of Triclosan can cause a disruption to our body’s endocrine system. In English this means that when exposed repeatedly to Triclosan we will suffer from a challenged thyroid. Even more alarming statistics were revealed when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey and found 75% of Americans over the age of 5 had measurable amounts of Triclosan in their urine.
How can this affect you?
Our thyroid is the gland responsible for weight management, depression, fatigue and memory loss. While further research is ongoing, Triclosan has also been found to mimic estrogen-like effects within the body, creating a possible link to the increase of breast cancer cells and early puberty. Due its overuse there is a growing concern over bacteria becoming resistant to its effects.
Does Triclosan kill germs?
Yes, it does, however time has shown that it will also harm us in the process. There are better alternatives and companies like Palmolive have already made the change by removing any Triclosan from their dish liquid products. Other companies, like Ivory, Tom’s of Maine, and Aveda provide Triclosan-free products including antibacterial soaps.
There has been no definitive study that verifies any actual benefit of Triclosan-laced soap over simple soap and water. The key to effectiveness is in how you wash your hands. Wet hands, apply soap and sing your ABC’s through twice while working the lather on the palms and back of hands, and between the fingers paying close attention to the nail area. Rinse thoroughly with your fingers pointed down and towel off. Sounds simple enough, but pay attention the next time you wash your hands. It takes longer than you might think.
*Triclosan is NOT found in hand sanitizers like Purell, so another alternative is to keep the Purell handy in your purse, the glove compartment, first-aid kit and your child’s backpack. Use it only when you have been exposed to questionable situations and do not have access to a washroom.*
Staying healthy is important and begins when we eat right, drink an ample amount of fluids and get plenty of rest. Hand washing is our greatest defense when we have come in contact with germs to avoid infection and from transferring those germs to someone else. Become an informed consumer: Know what you are eating and more about the products you use by reading labels.