The signs are everywhere: Antibacterial Soap Kills 99.9% of Germs. There are worldwide initiatives promoting hand washing for hygiene and disease prevention -- but are we doing more harm than good?
Iím not sure how many times I wash my hands per day at work, but it has to be somewhere around 75 to 100 times, and when I was on the floor, it was probably more than that. Like many other people, I thought the major side effect of this practice was dry, cracked skin. But I was wrong. There is an even larger problem: chemical exposure and pathogen resistance.
Antibacterial soaps and cleansers do their job: They kill germs. But have you ever wondered what gives antibacterial soap that super power? The superhero is triclosan, known to kill staphylococcus, influenza, and strep. Great, no more germs! Thatís what we want, right?
Well, yes and no. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the use of antibacterial soap may offer no more efficacy than plain soap. They noted that using regular soap and water for 30 seconds reduced bacteria by 58 percent on the hands of healthcare workers, and that antibacterial soaps may be ďoverkill.Ē
But thatís a good thing, right? Better safe than sorry.
Not exactly. According to Tufts University, there is concern about antibiotic resistance induced by antibacterial cleaners, especially in medical personnel.
, the active ingredient found in antibacterial soaps and cleaners, may be linked with several health problems, including endocrine disruption and cancer. In the article, "What Are the Dangers of Antibacterial Hand Soaps & Cleaners?
" on Livestrong.com, Colby University states that Triclosan can have estrogenic effects and may actually stimulate breast cancer cell growth. It may also cause thyroid dysfunction.
Triclosan has been used in common household products since 1972, and is found in soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, mouth washes, and cleaning supplies. It's even infused into products such as kitchen utensils, toys, bedding, socks, and trash bags. The chemical may be degraded by microorganisms, or react with sunlight, which may lead to the formation of compounds such as chlorophenols and dioxin.
Additionally, two reports suggest that when combined with chlorine in tap water, triclosan forms chloroform, which is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This finding resulted in a UK cancer alert, despite the studyís conclusion that the amount of chloroform was less than amounts found in chlorinated drinking water.
So, what are the alternatives? The University of Michigan School of Public Health said in a recent article that ordinary soap is just as effective as triclosan-containing products.
Does anyone use a safer, or more natural, form of hand sanitizer or soap? Any ideas on how to address the issue with institutions where antibacterial is the only soap available?