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Antibacterial Soaps: Why You Should Avoid Them Like the Plague

by  Christine H. Farlow, D.C.

Antibacterial soaps DO NOT help your family stay healthy. They may even be making you sick!

Antibacterial soaps have been widely embraced as a way to “kill germs” and prevent illness. But not all bacteria are harmful. And not all “germs” are bacteria.

Some bacteria are beneficial and your body needs them. Antibacterial soap cannot distinguish between harmful and helpful bacteria. It kills all bacteria. When the healthy bacteria that your body needs have been “washed away,” it weakens your body’s defense system and makes it easier for you to get sick when you’re exposed to harmful bacteria.

The most common antibacterial agent used in these soaps is triclosan, which is classified as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA considers triclosan to be a high risk to human health and to the environment.

Recent studies show that triclosan acts like an antibiotic in the way it kills bacteria and may contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Chemically, triclosan is almost the same as some of the most toxic chemicals on earth: dioxins, PCB’s, and Agent Orange. Its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects in the parts per trillion (one drop in 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools!).

Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. Externally, it can cause skin irritation, but since "….phenols can temporarily deactivate the sensory nerve endings….contact with [triclosan] often causes little or no pain. Internally, it can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse, convulsions, coma, and even death."

Triclosan is stored in body fat. "It can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidneys, and lungs, and can cause paralysis, sterility, suppression of immune function, brain hemorrhage, decreased fertility and sexual function, heart problems, and coma." It has not been completely tested and analyzed for all health and environmental risks.

Triclocarban is another antibacterial agent similar to triclosan. Like triclosan, it is also a pesticide. It is widely used in antibacterial soaps and other personal care products.  Not much research has been done on the toxicity of triclocarban. However, it has been found to adversely affect lab animals’ ability to reproduce and some of its breakdown products cause cancer.
 
Triclocarban does not completely break down in wastewater treatment, after you wash it down the drain. It has been found in groundwater, streams and drinking water. There are many unanswered questions about whether it’s presence in fertilizer and the soil cause it to get into the food supply and whether it will cause harm.

These two chemicals alone are enough reason to avoid antibacterial soaps. However, products containing antibacterial agents generally also contain other harmful ingredients. Some of the other ingredients found in these products that you should avoid include:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • BHT
  • Potassium Lauryl sulfate
  • Lauramide diethanolamine (DEA)
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Fragrance
  • D&C Colors
  • FD&C Colors
Antibacterial agents are not only in liquid soaps. It’s more common for liquid soap to contain the antibacterial chemicals, about 75% of them do. However, about 30% of the bar soaps also contain chemicals like tricolsan or triclocarban. In addition, these chemicals can also be found in other products, like deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, creams, toothpastes, mouthwashes, detergents, dish soaps and laundry soaps.

It is especially important to avoid using antibacterial soaps on children. These soaps do not protect them and help them to stay healthy. In fact, children need to come in contact with “germs” to help them to develop their immune system. Overuse of antibacterial agents has been linked to allergies and asthma.

It's also important to remember that antibacterial agents do not kill viruses, the microorganisms responsible for colds and flu.

The best soap to use for hand washing and general body care is a pure and natural soap, liquid or bar, free of the harsh and harmful chemicals. Gentle and healthy natural soaps can generally be found in health food stores (be sure to check the ingredients on the label) or online from companies that specialize in natural soaps. Healthy soaps are also recommended in the book, Dying To Look Good and online at DyingToLookGood.com. 

© 2006-2009 Christine H. Farlow, D.C., "The Ingredients Investigator" and author of DYING TO LOOK GOOD. Dr. Farlow has been researching ingredient safety since 1991. Learn more about the safety of ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products and find healthy products at www.dyingtolookgood.com.
 
 
 
 
 
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