As far back as 2007, the prestigious Harvard Health Letter reported that regular soap and water is just as effective at cleansing hands of bacteria as antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer, and it does it without devastating your immune system as antibacterial products do. Apparently nobody was listening though, because bottles of hand sanitizer and ads for antibacterial soap are everywhere. But fifteen seconds of hand washing with regular soap and water eliminates 80 percent of bacteria, an amount equivalent to what is eliminated with the use of antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer.
Today more than half of the hand soaps on the market have an antibacterial additive, and virtually all of the hand sanitizers do. Antibacterial additive is a nice way of saying these products contain a killer chemical. They are toxic — poisonous!
Advertisers have mounted an all out effort to make us scared of germs so we buy their antimicrobial products. But in reality, our world is meant to contain bacteria and other microbes, and it is the interaction between our immune systems and these microbes that keeps us free of allergies and in good health. Just take a breath of air and you are breathing in microbes. After you dutifully sanitize your hands, the first thing you touch will replace all the microbes you have killed off. There is no way around microbes because they are part of nature’s design.
When you use antibacterial products including hand sanitizers you are interrupting this natural balance between your immune system and the microbes of the world. It is the immune system’s job to deal with the microbes you are exposed to — that’s what it’s for. There is no need to consume toxic chemicals to do that, yet that is just what you are doing when you rub on hand sanitizer or use antibacterial soap. Anything rubbed on the skin enters the body and becomes part of the blood stream just as surely as if you had swallowed it. Would you willingly drink a toxic substance like Agent Orange?
One of the most popular of these toxic chemicals is triclosan. When used with chlorinated tap water, triclosan reacts with the chlorine to become chloroform, a chemical similar to Agent Orange, one of the biochemical weapons used in the Vietnam War. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies chloroform as a probable human carcinogen.
Triclosan’s reactivity with chlorine produces other dangerous compounds such as dioxins when UV radiation from the sun or other sources is present. This effect is of great concern because some dioxins are extremely toxic and act as potent endocrine disruptors. Because these compounds are highly stable, their elimination from the body is slow, and they can easily accumulate to dangerous levels.
Triclosan is toxic to the environment too. It kills important aquatic bacteria and inhibits photosynthesis in algae, single celled organisms that form the basis for much of the photosynthesis on Earth. A recently released study from France assessed the occurrence and toxicity of triclosan and its byproducts in the environment. Researchers discovered that triclosan accumulates in fatty tissues and has been found in fish and human samples including urine, breast milk, and serum. Triclosan was shown to be cytotoxic and genotoxic, in addition to disrupting the endocrine system. The scientists concluded that use of triclosan is suspected as instrumental in the emergence of resistant bacteria.
In 2009, the Canadian Medical Association asked the Canadian government to ban triclosan use in household products because of its ability to create bacterial resistance and produce such dangerous side products as chloroform.
A study in 2010 linked triclosan use with development of allergies in children. Researchers noted that allergies would occur in children who used other antibacterial agents as well as triclosan, because exposure to germs is one of the ways in which the immune system is kept healthy. Other studies have linked triclosan to the development of allergic contact dermatitis.
A 2006 animal study found low doses of triclosan act as an endocrine disrupter, probably because it chemically mimics thyroid hormone and binds to thyroid hormone receptor sites, blocking them so that normal thyroid hormone cannot gain access. Another animal study in 2009 found triclosan exposure has a significant impact on thyroid hormone concentrations.
A study from the Department of Entomology and Cancer Center at the University of California studied triclocarban, another antibacterial compound used in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Exposure to this compound after showering, and its biological effects were the focus. Researchers measured human urine concentrations from 0 to 72 hours after showering with a commercial soap bar containing 0.6% triclocarban. They found that continuous daily use of the soap led to steady state levels of excretion through the kidneys, meaning that for these users there was no time when their bodies did not contain triclocarban.
In addition to their use in antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer, triclosan and triclocarban are used in a variety of common household products, such as toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and other personal care and cleaning products. Triclosan is also a component in some pesticides and building products including carpeting.
If you want to stay healthy, wash your hands and your body with pure, natural soap. Good brands to buy are Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap and Dr. Bonners. You can find these soaps at health oriented stores like Whole Foods or they can be ordered online from websites such as Vitacost. Slip a bar into a plastic bag and take it with you to work or play. It’s a much better choice than what comes out of dispensers in public washrooms. The bottom line is that antimicrobial products do nothing to keep you well but may do a lot to make you and your world sick.