Stop Buying Fancy Antibacterial Products, Health Experts Warn

Hasan Variawa |

They don’t help keep you safe—and might even be putting you at risk
By Christa Sgobba

That “antibacterial” label on your soap might be making you feel safe, but it might not be doing much of anything at all—or, maybe just not anything good. Antimicrobial compounds may be harmful to both your health and the environment, a new consensus paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests. More than 200 international scientists and medical professionals concluded that these common antimicrobial compounds don’t provide any health benefits, as the paper detailed.

That includes chemicals like triclosan and triclocarbon, which had previously commonly been found in many personal care products. But in September of 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of hand soaps and body washes containing them, after concluding that they weren’t any more effective at reducing the spread of illness than washing with regular soap and water was, as we reported. The ingredients must be removed within one year following that ruling.

But that ruling doesn’t go far enough in protecting consumers, according to the new consensus statement. Exposure to triclosan and triclocarbon is still widespread, author Rolf Halden, Ph.D., said in a release. The class of chemicals is present in more than 2,000 products, like detergents, clothing, toys, carpets, plastics, and paints.

Triclosan and triclocarbon are endocrine disruptors, the paper claims. That means they’ve been shown to mess with certain hormones. In fact, in rodent studies, triclosan exposure has been linked to reduced testosterone levels and sperm production. Emerging human studies also suggest a link between the chemicals and sperm quality.

Plus, the chemicals persist in the environment, accumulating in aquatic plants and negatively impacting creatures in the water. And it’s not just triclosan and triclocarbon that are the problem: After the FDA’s ruling, consumer soaps and washes are simply using different antimicrobial additives. They’re also present in things like exercise mats, food storage containers, and kitchenware, according to the release.

So the group of scientists are hoping their paper will convince regulating bodies to limit the production and use of triclosan and triclocarbon, and to question the use other similar antimicrobials—as well as performing more research to test their safety. What’s more, they’re calling on these bodies to employ greater transparency, by clearly labeling products that contain these chemicals.

In the meantime, just know that you’re not getting any greater benefit to washing up with the antibacterial stuff. Use regular soap and water, but just make sure you’re washing your hands correctly.

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