The US may soon ban consumer anti-bacterial soaps

We have all been educated to wash our hands to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of infections, so many people are attracted to—and may only buy—soaps labeled “anti-bacterial”. We buy and use them thinking we are doing best for ourselves and for our family.

However, the majority of research from the last decade has shown that it is actually healthier is to avoid these anti-bacterial soaps, and instead use plain soaps, without the extra “anti-bacterial” ingredients.

In the United States, consumer groups have been actively seeking a federal ban on triclosan—the most common antibacterial chemical added to soap. A small amount of triclosan is absorbed into the bloodstream each time it is used, and consumer groups claim these chemicals have long-term side effects, and that these soaps are no more effective than regular soap.

Antibacterial soap is a billion dollar industry, and soap manufacturers claim these products are good and safe. But the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has become skeptical, and in December 2013 that federal agency issued a ruling that soap manufacturers have one year to present scientific proof that triclosan is safe and makes soap more effective, otherwise they will have to remove this chemical from their products.

The reason triclosan doesn’t kill more germs than regular soap seems to be because of the low concentration of triclosan in products made for the consumer. Hospital-strength triclosan soap may perform better, and the FDA is not planning to remove the anti-microbial from any hospital products. (Some of the research studies concluding that triclosan soap is superior, used these stronger hospital products, and the study subjects washed their hands for a full 30 seconds…and few people do that in the real world.)

And then there are possible long-term side effects. The first is that triclosan, when absorbed, may disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system. Animal studies suggest triclosan may stimulate early puberty, reduce fertility, and even lead to certain cancers.

The second effect is that wide-spread use of chemicals like triclosan leads to what is called “bacterial resistance”. When bacteria are exposed to low doses of antibacterials over a long period of time, the bacteria mutate (change) so that the antibacterials don’t kill them anymore. In real life that means that when we really need an antibiotic to work for us, for example when we take oral amoxicillin, the antibiotic won’t work so well because the bacteria have become stronger trying to survive with antimicrobial chemicals found almost everywhere.

Some soap manufacturers are seeing the writing on the wall and have started to remove triclosan from their products, and several European nations have already restricted the substance in consumer products. You can be ahead of the health care curve if you read the small print on your soap and cosmetic products, and avoid those with triclosan, opting for more natural soap products instead.

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See also in ProcuraMed:

Gonorrhea vs. antibiotics: who will win?

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