RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Excerpt: "Antibacterial agents in hand soaps have been banned in the US. That's good news - they seep into urine and breast milk, and can promote bacterial resistance."

'Triclosan had become so prevalent in household products that in 2003 a nationwide survey of healthy individuals found it in the urine of 75% of the 2,517 people tested.' (photo: Kiichiro Sato/AP)
'Triclosan had become so prevalent in household products that in 2003 a nationwide survey of healthy individuals found it in the urine of 75% of the 2,517 people tested.' (photo: Kiichiro Sato/AP)

The Hidden Danger in Your Hand Soap

By Sarah Ades and Kenneth Keiler, Guardian UK

19 September 16


Antibacterial agents in handsoaps have been banned in the US. That’s good news – they seep into urine and breast milk, and can promote bacterial resistance

US Food and Drug Administration ruling this month bans the use of triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other antiseptics from household soaps because they have not been shown to be safe or even have any benefit.

About 40% of soaps use at least one of these chemicals, and the chemicals are also found in toothpaste, baby pacifiers, laundry detergents and clothing. It is in some lip glosses, deodorants and pet shampoos.

The current FDA action bans antiseptics like triclosan in household soaps only. It does not apply to other products like antiseptic gels designed to be used without water, antibacterial toothpaste or the many fabrics and household utensils in which antibacterials are embedded. Data suggest that the toothpastes are very effective for people suffering from gum disease, although it is not clear if they provide substantial benefits for those who don’t have gingivitis.

The FDA is currently evaluating the use of antibacterials in gels and will rule on how those products should be handled once the data are in.

Although antibacterials are still in products all around us, the current ban is a significant step forward in limiting their use.

As microbiologists who study a range of chemicals and microbes, we will explain why we don’t we need to kill all the bacteria. We also will explain how antibiotic soaps may even be bad by contributing to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that can be dangerous.

Bacteria are everywhere in the environment and almost everywhere in our bodies, and that is mostly good.

We rely on bacteria in our guts to provide nutrients and to signal to our brains, and some bacteria on our skin help protect us from harmful pathogens.

Some bacteria present in soil and animal waste can cause infections if they are ingested, however, and washing is important to prevent bacteria from spreading to places where they can cause harm.

Washing properly with soap and water removes these potential pathogens.

If soap and water are sufficient, why were antibacterials like triclosan and triclocarban added in the first place?

Triclosan was introduced in 1972. These chemicals were originally used for cleaning solutions, such as before and during surgeries, where removing bacteria is critical and exposure for most people is short. Triclosan and triclocarban may be beneficial in these settings, and the FDA ruling does not affect healthcare or first aid uses of the chemicals.

In the 1990s, manufacturers started to incorporate triclosan and triclocarban in products for the average consumer, and many people were attracted by claims that these products killed more bacteria.

Now antibacterial chemicals can be found in many household products, from baby toys to fabrics to soaps. Laboratory tests show the addition of these chemicals can reduce the number of bacteria in some situations. However, studies in a range of environments, including urban areas in the United States and squatter settlements in Pakistan, have shown that the inclusion of antibacterials in soap does not reduce the spread of infectious disease. Because the goal of washing is human health, these data indicate that antibacterials in consumer soaps do not provide any benefit.

What’s the downside to having antibacterials in soap? It is potentially huge, both for those using it and for society as a whole. One concern is whether the antibacterials can directly harm humans.

Triclosan had become so prevalent in household products that in 2003 a nationwide survey of healthy individuals found it in the urine of 75% of the 2,517 people tested. Triclosan has also been found in human plasma and breast milk.

Most studies have not shown any direct toxicity from triclosan, but some animal studies indicate that triclosan can disrupt hormone systems. We do not know yet whether triclosan affects hormones in humans.

Another serious concern is the effect of triclosan on antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Bacteria evolve resistance to nearly every threat they face, and triclosan is no exception.

Triclosan isn’t used to treat disease, so why does it matter if some bacteria become resistant? Some of the common mechanisms that bacteria use to evade triclosan also let them evade antibiotics that are needed to treat disease. When triclosan is present in the environment, bacteria that have these resistance mechanisms grow better than bacteria that are still susceptible, so the number of resistant bacteria increases.

Not only are bacteria adaptable, they are also promiscuous. Genes that let them survive antibiotic treatment are often found on pieces of DNA that can be passed from one bacterium to another, spreading resistance.

These mobile pieces of DNA frequently have several different resistance genes, making the bacteria that contain them resistant to many different drugs. Bacteria that are resistant to triclosan are more likely to also be resistant to unrelated antibiotics, suggesting that the prevalence of triclosan can spread multi-drug resistance. As resistance spreads, we will not be able to kill as many pathogens with existing drugs.

Antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s and revolutionized the way we lead our lives. Common infections and minor scrapes that could be fatal became easily treatable. Surgeries that were once unthinkable due to the risk of infection are now routine.

However, bacteria are becoming stronger due to decades of antibiotic use and misuse. New drugs will help, but if we do not protect the antibiotics we have now more people will die from infections that used to be easily treated. Removing triclosan from consumer products will help protect antibiotics and limit the threat of toxicity from extended exposure, without any adverse effect on human health.

The FDA ruling is a welcome first step to cleansing the environment of chemicals that provide little health value to most people but pose significant risk to individuals and to public health. To a large extent, this ruling is a victory of science over advertising. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+7 # Glen 2016-09-19 10:26
The concerns are building and the product marketing is being expanded every year. Consider past influence of cigarette companies, the sugar industry, plastics, drugs, and on and on. Chemicals surround us, whether or not we use this type of soap or not.

We can all attempt to choose well, but it is difficult. And nothing will influence these industries. Probably not even a major boycott. Too many countries world wide involved.
+10 # Montanan 2016-09-19 12:42
If/When Donald Trump becomes president, he says he'll abolish the FDA. Our food- and drug-safety standards will be the purview of private industry (corporations policing themselves — we all know how that turns out) or nonexistent. Food for thought at the ballot box.
0 # Glen 2016-09-19 15:11
So true, Montanan. This country is being dismantled bit by bit. Somehow, I do think The Donald is just that dark entertainment I have spoken of. Clinton is the chosen one by the world's most powerful and wealthy. The leaders of the U.S. are totally connected and chosen, even Barack Obama.
0 # JJS 2016-09-19 17:40
FDA being abolished is not so bad but only if it were to be replaced by TRUE civil servants with the public's interests at heart. That along with the power and means to enforce regulations both before and after the BIGS (Pharma, Ag,...) screw up.
How can we get THAT reality?
0 # Logic 2016-09-19 21:04
The thing that is so disturbing about Trump is that he is a blowhard, yes. But he points out problems.

I was glad to see the alphabet organizations start to help us in the 1970s — CDC, OSHA, EPA, FDA, USDA. But they soon came under the influence of various special interests.

Revolving doors, etc.

Years ago the EPA “200 Lake Study” was hidden from the public. That study showed how much mercury was in fish caught in 200 major lakes in the US. The study named the species of fish and the lake - largemoth bass xxx lake —It was a negative for lakeside real estate. Lots of the fish had higher levels than tuna.

Recently in the News was Christine Todd Whitman of the EPA saying that the air was OK after 911.

The list goes on. You can find things the FDA did wrong.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.