An Easy Resolution for a Healthier New Year
I have a New Year’s resolution for you that might sound a little strange at first:
Stop using antibacterial products. All of them.
FDA bans antibacterial chemicals in commercial products
You might be thinking that by using these products, you’re keeping your family safe. Turns out, it’s quite the opposite.
In 2016, the FDA announced bans on numerous antibacterial chemicals used in household cleaners and personal care products. The industry had been given a timeframe to prove that their products were safe back in 2013 — and in three years they were not able to do that.
““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,” explains Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.””
Manufacturers of consumer soaps and hand cleaners have been given one year to remove 19 banned chemicals from their products. That means that harmful products are still being sold to you in grocery stores, drugstores and home supply stores (not to mention toy stores).
Other companies producing antibacterial products, including sanitizers, cleaners and toothpastes are still under investigation. Many have been asked to provide proof that their use of antibacterials provides more benefit than it does risk. There is no guarantee that they will be able to do that. Until they do, you should be very wary of any product making antibacterial claims.
No help, plenty of harm
Antibacterial soaps are no more effective for cleaning your skin than regular soap and water.
Plus, you can easily buy natural soaps that won’t cause you harm.
Two of the nineteen chemicals on the banned list are triclosan and triclocarban. You’ll find these chemicals in at least 40% of the soap products available on the market. The negative long-term effects of these chemicals are surprising, considering how available they are.
Let’s talk about the risks…
Beware the superbugs!
Using antibacterial chemicals to kill bacteria can actually make them stronger over time. It also makes them harder to kill.
Diane Vukovic at ecowatch.com elaborates, “most antibacterial soaps contain the ingredient triclosan. When the bacteria are exposed to triclosan, they can undergo genetic mutations. These same mutations not only protect them from triclosan (or whatever other antibacterial product you are using), but can make them more difficult to kill with antibiotics.”
Mutations are not the only worry. Often antibacterials wipe out all but the strongest bacteria. The remaining bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (aka MRSA) is one such bacteria that is particularly worrisome. This is a deadly bacteria that cannot be killed by pharmaceutical antibiotics like Methicillin. It is the direct result of overuse of antibiotics and antibacterials. It’s just one example.
So, when you think you’re fighting off bad bacteria, you’re actually making them stronger. These powerful bacteria can then cause infections that your body has a hard time fighting and that we don’t have antibiotic drugs for. For people with compromised immune systems (think critically ill or elderly people) infection with these superbugs can be a death sentence.
Don’t kill the good guys
A healthy body depends on certain bacteria to function. Your digestion and your gut health rely on friendly bacteria to keep you alive. Your body has about 3 pounds of bacteria in it that is as important or more so than any of your vital organs.
Antibacterial products don’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria, they are designed to kill them all. Many common health problems today can be linked back to the destruction of huge quantities of healthy bacteria that your body needs but that have been wiped out by overuse of antibacterials (and possibly overuse of antibiotic drugs).
Even exposure to mildly harmful bacteria can be good for your overall health in the long-term.
“Research has shown that exposure to bacteria can actually be good because it strengthens your immune system. People—especially children—who live in a particularly sterile environment are more prone to infections when they do have exposure to germs.”
By working so hard to wipe out the bacteria we perceive as a threat, we kill the bacteria we need. Plus, we need to expose ourselves to bad bacteria too so we can build up immunity to them.
Hormone imbalances can be responsible for problems like weight gain, infertility, trouble sleeping and disease.
Studies have proven that chemicals like triclosan can cause hormone imbalances. The trouble is, we expose ourselves to these chemicals daily.
Many hormones and functions can be affected. There are a few key hormones that triclosan affects that you should be concerned about. Bodyecology.com explains: “Specifically—estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones. In animal studies, triclosan has been proven to reduce levels of thyroid hormones. (4)(5) Thyroid hormones keep your metabolic fires stoked, making them essential to a strong immune system and a healthy pregnancy.“
Antibacterial chemicals don’t just work their magic and disappear. Like many things, they have a lasting — and harmful —presence.
As Wellness Mama explains, that’s not a good thing for our environment: “Widespread use of antibacterial chemicals, especially in hand soaps, has led to these chemicals getting washed down drains and into the water system. Studies show that these chemicals can remain, even after water treatment and these chemicals (and many others, including plastic based chemicals) are being found in streams and waterways around the world. This is especially concerning because they appear to affect algae and marine life in dramatic ways.”
The last thing our oceans need is more pollution. Especially when these chemicals are hurting us in most of the contexts that we’re using them in.
How to ditch the antibacterials
It can be a big change for some people, so here are some tips on where to start:
- Go through your home and check labels on soaps, laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. You can often find healthy, natural replacements at your local health food store or online.
- You can also make your own cleaners if you have the time and ambition. There are many online tutorials to show you how. Coconut oil, vinegar, baking soda and essential oils are just a few of the ingredients that can be used to replace antibacterial chemicals. Even making your own personal care products (like deodorant and soap) is not that hard.
- If you aren’t sure about a brand or product, use the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to check the safety of your personal care products.
- Look for these chemicals in places you might not have expected them. Baby toys and kitchen tools are both culprits for antibacterial chemicals. In a way, this would seem to make sense. But trust me, you’d be better off with toys and tools made of natural materials, like wood.
If you’re buying antibacterial products, it’s probably because you want to keep your family healthy and safe. Hopefully, this post will have helped to clarify why antibacterials are really just a big marketing lie designed to get you to buy harmful products you don’t need.
Whether you’re washing your hands or cleaning your home, remember that natural soap and water is as effective and many times safer than antibacterial soaps or cleaners.