When it comes to hand soap, you would think the deal would be pretty straightforward: make a product that kills off the bad bacteria, keeps the good, and isn’t harmful to our bodies in any way. While this seems like a fairly simple task on the surface, as we’ve seen over the last few decades, creating a “super soap” that protects us from bacteria without enabling the bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics and without any adverse side effects, may be a tall order. Worse yet, instead of taking into account the lessons we’ve learned from the trial and error of manufacturing antibacterial soaps, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed the mass production of antibacterial products like deodorant, toothpaste, and soap, to … run a bit wild. Thankfully, just this week, after concluding that “antibacterial” soaps do little or nothing to make soaps better and may not necessarily be safe for long-term use, the FDA is calling for a ban on many of these “antibacterial” add-ons, triclosan included. According to a report for NBC News, companies will have one year to remove these chemicals from products.
Why is this a huge win for public health? Well, to begin, studies have shown that chemicals like triclosan (which is found in nearly 93 percent of liquid products labeled “antibacterial”) disrupt hormones critical for reproduction. And if you think that this chemical washes off as easily as the soap off of your hands, think again. This chemical gets absorbed through our mouths and skin. No wonder triclosan was found in 75 percent of people tested. Furthermore, triclosan has been found to interfere with multiple hormonal systems including thyroid, testosterone, and estrogenic pathways and has even been linked to allergy and asthma. With a call to ban this dangerous chemical, we can all worry a little less about the potential impact our everyday products and soaps can have on people, especially children and those in reproductive years.
This ban is also hugely beneficial to animals. Like most (if not all) of human action, the products we use and the chemicals in them have an indirect impact on animals. In triclosan’s case, the chemical breaks down into dioxins that are harmful for both humans and animals and end up in the sediment of lakes and ponds, water treatment plants, and agricultural fields. It has also been found in waterways that serve as a source of drinking water for both humans and animals. Considering all of the problems we’re already witnessing in the ocean from factory farm run-offs, we hardly need to contribute any more chemicals into the toxic cocktail, especially for something as wildly unnecessary and scientifically unsupported as antibacterial soap.
The FDA didn’t just leave the American public quivering in their boots with flu season just around the corner. Along with the announcement of the ban (which companies will have a year to enforce or challenge) the FDA revealed what we have suspected all along: there is no scientific evidence suggesting that antibacterial soaps are better at killing germs than just plain soap and water. Huzzah! Let’s all go pick up a bar of natural soap, wash our hands, and feel good about the fact that we are successfully killing off bacteria without hurting the planet, animals, or ourselves.
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