Be wary of antibacterial soaps, cleaners

Posted Monday, May. 19, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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You see them everywhere and probably have some in your own home. But are antibacterial soaps and cleaners doing you more harm than good?

A new study published in the American Society for Microbiology journal found that the antibacterial agent commonly used in household soaps, cleaners, shampoos and toothpastes can promote the growth of certain bacteria that may lead to infections. In other words, it’s doing the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to do – kill germs.

“The main concern is over chemicals most of these antibacterial soaps contain triclosan or triclocarban,” says Dr. Nancy Georgekutty, family medicine physician on staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

When you use antibacterial cleaners, these chemicals can get in your nose where they’ve been shown to promote the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Researchers detected triclosan in 41 percent of adults who were using antibacterial agents. And those with triclosan-tainted noses were more likely to harbor Staphylococcus aureus, making them more susceptible to infections.

In case you think these chemicals are new, they’re not. Triclosan has been used in household products for more than 40 years and is widely used in exercise clothing and socks marketed to fight odors. It’s embedded into some kitchen cutting boards as a germ fighter. Even school supplies, plastics, toys and some carpets and pacifiers contain triclosan.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently took a tough stance on triclosan by telling personal care product manufacturers they need to prove the chemical is safe for humans and that it outperforms regular soap and water. They’ve given soap manufacturers one year to demonstrate that the substances are safe or to take them out of the products altogether. However, while this process plays out, triclosan and its cousin triclocarban are still being used in thousands of everyday products.

In the meantime, Georgekutty offers these tips:

• Use regular soap and water. When coupled with proper hand-washing techniques, soap and water gives you plenty of germ-fighting protection.

• If you can’t wash with soap and water, opt for an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 70 percent alcohol content.

• Before buying personal care products, check the label and avoid triclosan or triclocarban containing products.

• It’s a little tougher to identify antimicrobials in other products because other manufacturers aren’t required to disclose it on the label. So as a general rule, be wary of “anti-odor,” “odor-fighting technology,” “antimicrobial” or germ-killing claims. These could signal triclosan use.

Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

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