Health Risks of Anti-Bacterial Soaps

cat at sink

With fears of H1N1 running rampant, it seems like everywhere you turn, there’s antibacterial gel, antibacterial soap and other antibacterial cleansers.  But are these cleansers really necessary, not to mention safe, or do they actually post health risks?  Today’s guest post addresses these questions.

Guest post by Woody McMahon, Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.

In an effort to fulfill the age old saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” the use of antibacterial soaps is on the rise. The liberal use of soap is a good thing, but antibacterial soaps present several major risks.

As early as 2005, researchers at Virginia Tech found that the active chemical ingredient in antibacterial soaps, triclosan, can cause two major health problems. First, consumers who use the soaps may be exposed to significant quantities of the cancer causing substance chloroform. Also, long term use of these soaps creates an unhealthy balance of antibiotic resistant bacteria on the skin. They found bacteria resistant to some of the more popular antibiotic drugs like chloramphenicol, ampicillin, tetracycline and ciprofloxacin.

Dr. Peter Vikesland, an environmental chemist at Virginia Tech had this to say about antibacterial soaps: “This is the first work that we know of that suggests that consumer products, such as antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of chloroform. There are numerous potential exposure pathways that can be envisioned, such as inhalation and skin exposure, when using antimicrobial soaps to wash dishes or when taking a shower. There is also risk of exposure when using triclosan laden moisturizers as they may also react with chlorine in the water.”

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent found in a wide variety of products. Its broad spectrum, bacteria fighting ability has made it popular in an ever increasing number of personal care products, cosmetics, antimicrobial creams, acne treatments, lotions, hand soaps, and dish soaps. Triclosan goes under the trade name Microban®, when used in plastics and clothing and Biofresh® when used in acrylic fibers. Even though Triclosan is effective at killing bacteria, it is registered as a pesticide with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill some type of life form. The EPA considers triclosan a high risk for human health and the environment.

What is Chloroform?

When triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, reacts with the chlorine in the tap water, chloroform is created. Chloroform is a central nervous system depressant and cancer causing compound. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines when it comes to contact with chloroform. Chronic inhalation of chloroform may cause psychiatric and neurological symptoms, including depression, hallucinations and moodiness. In one study, liver enlargement was demonstrated in 17 of 68 workers exposed to chloroform at low levels for 1 to 4 years. Alcoholics are more at risk from chloroform because ethanol increases chloroform’s toxic effects.

Healthy Bacteria

The bacteria on your skin serve as a part of your skin’s natural defense mechanism. Your skin uses healthy bacteria to keep colonies of unhealthy bacteria at bay. Without the healthy bacteria, the unhealthy ones can take over and create infections and other skin problems. Destroy all the healthy bacteria with antibacterial soap and you set yourself up for big problems. The constant use of antibacterial soaps is similar to using antibiotics for every little cold or sneeze. All antibacterial products should be used sparingly so that resistant strains of bacteria do not develop. Using antibiotics only when necessary ensures they will remain effective when the need arises. 

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

When bacteria are exposed to long term, low doses of antibiotics, some of them can develop antibiotic resistance. Resistant bacteria must be treated with other, sometimes stronger antibiotics. In rare instances, there is no known medication that will kill the bacteria. It is wiser to use antibiotics sparingly and for shorter duration. The constant use of antimicrobials, as in the antibacterial soaps, creates a real long term health hazard; one that is easily avoidable with regular soap.

Living a healthier lifestyle is easy with one of Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.’s Fresh Start programs.  They provide the plan, implementation, motivation and accountability necessary for your success. To see all of their programs, visit  www.sequoiahealth.com.  They offer a no-cost consultation.  For more information, please e-mail Woody McMahon at Woody@SequoiaHealth.com

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