Today you can buy antibacterial hand soap for the bathroom, antibacterial toothpaste, antibacterial dish sponges, food dishes, clothes, shower curtains, cutting boards, deodorants, computer key boards, children’s toys and more. If all these antibacterial products were really helpful, wouldn’t we be seeing a decline in illness by now?
The fact is, antibacterial soaps don’t work. Oh, they will kill 99.6% of the germs on your hands, but plain soap and water will kill 99.4% of the germs! And after you wash your hands, as soon as you touch something, you are no longer “germ free”. Also, antibacterials kill bacteria – but colds and flu are viruses. Washing with antibacterial soap will not protect you from getting the flu.
Studies have found that children who grow up in slightly unsanitary conditions have fewer instances of allergies, eczema and asthma than children who are raised in more sterile environments. It is believed that children actually need to be exposed to some germs in order to develop healthy immunities.
There are some serious environmental issues regarding triclosan, the main ingredient in most of the antibacterial products marketed today. Triclosan is found in waste water treatment facilities, as the antibacterial soaps are washed down the drain along with our germs. Triclosan is now found in our lakes and rivers. It kills several varieties of algae. It is absorbed by fish, found in high concentrations in their bile, causing fin deformities and infertility. Triclosan is even found in human breast milk and plasma, regardless of whether the person actually used antibacterial products.
Triclosan is not believed to be toxic, but it may contain dioxins, which are very dangerous. Dioxins cause birth defects, miscarriage, weakened immune system, infertility, altered sex hormones and cancer. When triclosan was exposed to ultraviolet radiation (as in sunlight) it converted to dioxins in the lab. As higher concentrations of triclosan fill our lakes and streams, they too may become contaminated with toxic dioxins.
Once again, the European Union seems to be ahead of the United States when it comes to saving the environment. Already they are taking steps to limit triclosan use. It is banned from items that come into contact with food, and consumers are urged not to buy antibacterial products.
The American Medical Association has publicly stated that “it may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.” (Tan, 2002). So the next time you go shopping, look for soap products that do not have “antibacterial” in the label. Remember, it’s not what you wash your hands with that matters – only that you wash your hands.