Antibacterial soap is a type of cleaning product which contains chemical ingredients that purportedly assist in killing bacteria. Such chemicals usually include triclosan (an antifungal and antibacterial agent found in consumer products, including detergents, toothpaste, soaps, toys, and surgical cleaning treatments), triclocarban, and chloroxylenol.
Triclosan is reportedly used in more than 2,000, or 93% of liquid soap products that are labeled “antimicrobial” or “antibacterial.”
In accordance to a report in the Los Angeles Times, “a national health survey found triclosan in the urine of 75 percent of the 2,517 individuals who gave samples. This compound can enter the body via absorption through the skin or the lining of the mouth.” Furthermore, it has been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
Some popular brand names that use this chemical in some or all of their products include Queen Helene, Colgate, Arm and Hammer, Tea Tree Therapy, Garden Botanika, Reach, CVS, or BioFresh.
FDA bans 19 chemicals found in antibacterial soaps
In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of 19 chemicals commonly found in such products due to insufficient information on the long-term beneficial health effects of their use, and the fact that this type of products do not show that they reduce the transmission of gastrointestinal or respiratory infections.
Manufacturers will have 1 year to comply with the rule-making by removing products from the market or reformulating (removing antibacterial active ingredients) these products. Additionally, the Canadian government declared triclosan toxic to the environment, a move which would see the use of the substance curtailed sharply in Canada.
Moreover, the ban would not apply to antiseptic products used in healthcare settings, hand sanitizers, and antiseptics used in food handler settings. Nevertheless, CDC says that if plain hand soap is not available, individuals should choose an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
The other 18 banned chemicals are: cloflucarban, hexachlorophene iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol), dodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate) ,fluorosalan, hexylresorcinol, poloxamer-iodine complex, nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine, undecoylium chloride iodine complex, povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent, phenol (greater than 1.5 percent), sodium oxychlorosene, methylbenzethonium chloride, tribromsalan, phenol, secondary amyltricresols, and triple dye.
Even though triclosan and the other compounds on the FDA’s list are now outlawed, products most likely will not be free of antibacterials anytime soon. Companies have substituted triclosan with three other substances that are unapproved by the FDA: chloroxylenol, benzalkonium chloride, and benzethonium chloride. These substances have been given an extension to remain on the market for at least another year while companies gather evidence supporting their efficacy and safety.
What are the side effects of triclosan in antibacterial soap?
Antibiotic resistance – this chemical works in a similar way to the antibiotic isoniazid, which has raised the question of whether its widespread community use may play a role in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Many laboratory-based studies have supported this theory, while community-based researchers have not demonstrated evidence of antibiotic resistance with the use of the antibacterial soaps over a one-year period.
In addition, other studies have proven that continual use of an antibacterial product creates antibiotic resistant bacteria. Furthermore, a few studies concluded that individuals who use products containing this chemical regularly have a higher incidence of resistance to antibiotics than individuals who do not.
Allergies – This substance has been linked with a higher risk of food allergy. In 2013, Norwegian scientists found that triclosan concentrations in urine samples were linked with allergic sensitization, particularly inhalant and seasonal allergens in children. There’s evidence that children with extended exposure to this chemical have a higher chance of developing allergies, including peanut allergies and hay fever. In addition, other studies have associated this chemical to allergic contact dermatitis in some people.
Lowers immunity – A 2010 study at the University of Michigan cited by New York Orthodontists established that exposure to this substance resulted in decreased immune function.
Cancer – A 2014 animal study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that long-term exposure to this compound caused liver damage, plus increased risk of liver cancer.
Environmental hazards – it has been associated with environmental concerns as well. Once products contain this chemical get washed down the drain, the substances they contain can persist in nature for many years.
Wastewater treatment does not remove all of the compounds, which means it ends up in our rivers, lakes, and water sources. That’s especially unfortunate since this chemical is very toxic to aquatic life, plus it is also fat-soluble, which means that it builds up in fatty tissues. Hence, scientists are concerned that it can biomagnify, appearing at higher levels in the tissues of animals higher up the food chain, as the chemical of all the animals and plants below them is concentrated.