Can Antibacterials Do More Harm Than Good?

Can Antibacterials Do More Harm Than Good?

Germ-fighting products are everywhere, from wipes to sprays to soaps to solutions,  nowhere is this more obvious than with antibacterial items.

Even as few as 20 years ago, you might’ve been hard-pressed to find a soap labeled “antibacterial.” Soap was soap – when you washed correctly with hot water, it cleaned things…end of story. But with the advent of antibacterial soap came the idea that plain old soap just wouldn’t do: we needed something stronger, something to eradicate all the germs in the universe. Now you can purchase antibacterial pens, toys and clothing, among other things. It’s everywhere…so are you safer?

Maybe not. The harsh agents used to kill certain bacteria and viruses – like triclosan – has served to make some of them more resistant…and relentless. These new “superbugs” can prevent real problems in facilities like hospitals and schools, and maybe even in your own home.

An article published in Pacific Standard in October of 2013 described the antibacterial phenomenon this way: “Antibacterial soap is ubiquitous these days. Dishwashing detergent, body washes, lotions, toothpaste, socks, toys, cutting boards, and other personal products often also contain antibacterials, a marketing response to consumer fears about germs. But a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel concluded in 2005 that antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain old soap and water at removing germs. Some scientists think it does more harm than good. Past laboratory studies have found that bacteria resistant to triclosan, including strains of Salmonella and E. coli, often are resistant to common antibiotics as well….”[1]

A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology the same year reported that triclosan, the chemical used in antibacterial soap, substantially increases triclosan-resistant bacteria in waterways downstream from cities and suburbs.[2]

In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sued the FDA to regulate triclosan under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

According to The Consumerist, the FDA, for their part, “has a proposal that would require companies to show that their anti-bacterial products are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of infection. Any company that can’t prove safety and effectiveness will have to either re-label the product or reformulate it.”[3]

A long day of shopping, a kid who just played outside, or a quick trip to your office powder room might just not warrant a scrubbing and spritz of antibacterial gel. It may be as simple as what your grandmother encouraged you to do, which was simply wash your hands with old-fashioned soap and warm water.

And while it’s absolutely true that germs, bacteria and viruses can cause illness, there are more natural and chemical-free ways to combat those contaminants without unwittingly strengthening them. There are machines available that can treat the air and surfaces of homes, offices, sports facilities, daycares, doctor’s offices and more, that use technology – not chemicals – to eradicate contaminants, yet won’t negatively impact you or your environment.





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