Is It Good to be Squeeky Clean?

Could there possibly be anything wrong with using antimicrobial soap? The counterintuitive answer is “Yes.”

A few writers have expressed concern about the safety of triclosan, a potent wide-spectrum antibacterial and antifungal chemical that is added to many household products. One study concluded that triclosan acts as a hormone disrupter in North American bullfrogs. The Environmental Working Group has claimed that triclosan may cause cancer; however, EPA has disputed this claim. Nevertheless, EPA has apparently acknowledged that triclosan can interfere with thyroid hormones. According to a study by Margaret James at the University of Florida,   triclosan interferes with estrogen in women and can disrupt a vital enzyme during pregnancy.

How prevalent is triclosan in our bodies? The US Center for Disease Control in 2010 published results of human blood tests: they found levels of triclosan of 18 to 500 ppb – comparable to the body’s normal blood level of 10 to 200 ppb of the thyroid hormone thyroxine! Not an omen for good health.

Triclosan is reportedly found in soaps, deodorants, shaving creams, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. Since the USDA and EPA regulate triclosan, products containing it must say so on the label. I checked labels of many of these products in the local supermarket and found that of soaps, only “antibacterial” labeled soaps contained triclosan; no mouthwashes contained it; a few toothpastes contained it; and some deodorants and shaving creams contained it. It is easy to avoid products with triclosan if one is concerned about its safety.

You may ask, Is it sensible to use antimicrobials such as triclosan to make our bodies free of bacteria? There are two answers. The American Medical Association declared that antibacterial soap offers no cleansing benefit over regular soap. A 2007 review in Clinical Infectious Diseases determined that using antibacterial soap did not reduce the amount of bacteria on a person’s hands, nor did it prevent symptoms like cough, diarrhea, or skin infections. Two, bacteria on and in our bodies outnumber all the cells of our bodies by a factor or 10, and most of them are benign or essential to health. Trying to kill all them is futile and off the mark.

Common sense and the Precautionary Principle should tell us to avoid the use of antimicrobial substances, like triclosan, in household products.


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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