Our increasing obsession with avoiding germs could be making us sick. I call it the antibacterial crazy train. I'm not the first, by any stretch, to suggest we get off this unwieldy locomotive.
In Slow Death by Rubber Duck, authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie dedicate a whole chapter to "Germophobia". Rick actually acts as a test guinea pig, using commonly found antibacterial products containing triclosan and Microban ® on himself. What's unnerving about Rick's "triclosan shopping list" is it looks like it could be anyone's!
After just two days of brushing his teeth with Colgate Total toothpaste, washing dishes with Dawn Ultra concentrated, and shaving with Gillette gel, to name a few, his urine sample contained the highest recorded value of triclosan to date in the U.S. population!
This is not a contest you want win.
Triclosan, one of the most common antibacterial agents, is found in a wide range of household products — garbage bags, toys, counter tops, facial tissues, and cosmetics. It easily passes through the skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function. In the environment, triclosan reacts to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate and are toxic. Environment Canada has categorized triclosan as toxic to aquatic organisms and Health Canada limits concentrations to 0.03 per cent in mouthwashes and 0.3 per cent in other cosmetics.
There's growing concern that use of antibacterial products may negatively affect human health in other ways. The Canadian Medical Association has called on the federal government to ban all antibacterial household products (PDF file) because of fears they cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In fact, the findings of published studies show no evidence that antibacterials actually do a better job then your regular soap in a household setting. On top of contributing to a rise of "superbugs", a Swedish study found high levels of this bactericide in human breast milk and it's showing up in our waterways.
Stop triclosan from building up in our bodies, and in nature. Here are two simple ways to steer clear:
1. Read labels. Avoid triclosan (and the other Dirty Dozen) on the ingredient lists of your personal care products — like deodorant, antiperspirant, and toothpaste — and household cleaning products.
2. Choose bar soaps — triclosan was found in 76 per cent of liquid soaps and only 29 per cent of bar soaps in the U.S. (American Journal of Infection Control, 2002)
3. Wash with a fragrance-free, plant-based soap or make you own.
Liquid hand soap recipe
(in under 10 minutes)
Add this mixture to your soap dispenser (even the foaming kind):
¾ cup (187.5 ml) distilled water
¼ cup (62.5 ml) liquid castile soap (found at most health food stores or organic grocers in unscented or scented with essential oils)
Optional: ½ (2.5 ml) teaspoon grapeseed oil
How have you managed to avoid triclosan in your household products and cosmetics?
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green