When you wash your hands you expect them to feel clean, and knowing that you are washing your hands with an antibacterial soap offers most people some peace of mind. Over the years, however, experts have stopped recommending the use of antibacterial products, and the list of reasons why is growing.
Initially, antibacterial soap was seen as a possible cause for the creation of “superbugs,” antibiotic-resistant pathogens that could turn into untreatable diseases in humans.
The fear was that antibacterial soaps killed most germs, but the ones they didn’t kill could eventually develop a resistance, then replicating and creating more germs that were also resistant. This would render the antibacterial soaps use din hospital ineffective, and increase not only the number of infections, but the the severity of those infections as well.
But if fear of superbugs wasn’t enough to slow down the antibacterial soap movement, in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that there was no evidence proving antibacterial soaps worked better for the general public than just plain soap and water, and that manufacturers would now have to prove a benefit before they could sell such a product.
What’s more, some of the ingredients of antibacterial soaps– like triclosan–were confirmed as hormone disruptors, something experts had considered likely for some time.
“Given our emerging understanding of chemicals as hormone disruptors, this is a remarkable and positive step towards protecting children,” said Leonardo Trasande, from New York University’s Langone Medical Center, to USA Today at the time of the FDA statement.
Now, there is even another reason to put that antibacterial soap back on the store shelf; a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found regular exposure to large doses of triclosanstill a common antimicrobial ingredient in soaps and toothpastecan aggravate liver fibrosis and tumors in mice when given in conjunction with another carcinogen.
“Triclosans increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action, said Robert H. Tukey, PhD, in a press release.
Tukey and his team found that in laboratory mice, triclosan disrupted liver integrity and compromised liver function, increasing susceptibility to chemical-induced liver tumors. The tumors were also larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed to triclosan.
“We could reduce most human and environmental exposures by eliminating uses of triclosan that are high volume, but of low benefit, such as inclusion in liquid hand soaps, fellow researcher Bruce D. Hammock, PhD, said. Yet we could also for now retain uses shown to have health value as in toothpaste, where the amount used is small.
Traces of triclosan have been found in 97 percent of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested. Triclosan is also common in the environment, indicated researchers.
It is one of the seven most frequently detected compounds in streams across the United States.