Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
If you’ve washed your hands, taken a shower or done the dishes with a certain type of soap in the last 50 years, then you’ve also gambled with your health.
You see, a popular type of soap that’s supposed to increase your health and protect you from illness-causing bacteria and viruses is actually making you sicker.
In fact, this soap is downright dangerous for your health. Its side effects can include everything from antibiotic resistance to hormone disruption to cancer.
And for these reasons, after 40 years of debate, the U.S Food and Drug Administration has finally decided to ban the dangerous chemicals that make it.
Last week, the FDA banned 19 of the active ingredients that are in antibacterial soaps, including triclosan. These health-hazardous substances are used in many household products like soaps, mouthwashes, toothpastes, clothing, toys and more.
The decision closes the door on a decades-long discussion about the safety and efficacy of these germ-destroying chemicals like triclosan.
And with good reason.
Originally intended for hospital use, triclosan and other antibacterials were released in the 1960s. However, as the consumer demand for antibacterial soaps and products grew, so did their public availability. But didn’t take long for concerns over safety to arise.
In fact, the first FDA-proposed ban came in the mid-1970s. But it took another 40 years to make the ban stick. After these four decades of research (and public exposure), several clinical studies show that antibacterial products aren’t increasing your health.
Of these findings, one thing is the most certain: Washing with triclosan-based soap doesn’t protect you from illness any better than plain ol’ soap and water.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), puts a finer point on this:
Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.
Dr. Woodcock is right: Triclosan can have negative long-term health effects.
Resistance on the Rise
There’s lots of evidence concluding that antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers can increase antibiotic resistance. Research shows that triclosan weakens and kills microorganisms in the same way that antibiotics do. Since these antibacterial substances destroy bacteria the same way antibiotics do, it could lead to bacterial mutation and could increase bacterial resistance to antibiotic medications, which can lead to hard to treat infections.
Many studies have shown that bacteria may become triclosan-resistant in labs. One study showed that up to 7 percent of Listeria strains were resistant to antibacterial soaps. And what’s more alarming about this finding — these strains were isolated from food products. This means using an antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer could leave you open to foodborne illness.
But the bad news doesn’t stop there…
While there is no clear research on the health effects of triclosan and other antibacterial agents on human health, there are animal studies that suggest exposure to them may ignite allergies, disrupt hormones or even cause cancer.
These potential dangers are particularly worrisome since these products are applied directly to skin, where they can be absorbed into the body.
Now that triclosan and its antibacterial counterparts have been banned, companies are finding new chemicals that are unapproved by the FDA to replace them. Three of these include chloroxylenol, benzethonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride.
And while companies selling these “replacement” chemicals have a year to gather evidence to prove they are safe for humans, it’s likely they will have the same issues as triclosan. While we wait to hear, it’s best to avoid products that contain these three chemicals and the 19 that the FDA just banned.
Here’s a list of all banned antibacterials:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5–10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily