Bacteria get a bad rap these days, what with the focus on germ-fighting antibacterial hand washes, gels, wipes and sprays that promise to squeaky-clean our lives.
But what we might not realize is that these potent germ-fighters wipe out both good and bad bacteria, possibly contributing to an epidemic-worthy spike in childhood asthma and allergies as our kids’ fragile immune systems are no longer exposed to enough of the good bacteria that they need to develop normally.
Antibacterials don’t just hurt our kids; they affect all of us. These substances are actually pesticides that are regulated by the FDA; the most popular, triclosan, is under “ongoing scientific and regulatory review” because it “alters homone regulation” in animal studies.
According to the FDA, there is no research that shows antibacterials like triclosan—and triclocarban, which is basically the same thing—are any more effective than regular old soap and water. Yes despite these facts, the minute the sniffles start making the rounds even the most die-hard greenies seem to grab for an antibacterial. But researchers are increasingly finding more ways that antibacterials can be dangerous.
There’s no research that shows antibacterials are any more effective than plain old soap and water. A recent study of triclosan at UC Davis showed the antibacterial reduced muscle strength in animals; researchers theorize this can also be a problem for humans. Another study, from the University of Michigan, found that the antibacterial triclosan may compromise our immune systems and make us more susceptible to allergies.
According to the Environmental Working Group, even low levels of the antibacterial triclosan can disrupt thyroid function.
The American Medical Association warns against antibacterials like triclosan because they encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Here are three steps to avoid them:
1. Read your labels! In additional to hand cleaners, even toothbrushes, cutting boards and sponges are now infused with chemical antibacterials.
2. On the front label, avoid the words “antibacterial” and “germ-fighting” on the back, look for ingredients like triclosan and triclocarban.
Finally, if you are using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, remember to store it out of reach. According to Good Guide, U.S. poison centers report a high percentage of exposure cases involve kids under six.
Photo: Good Guide