We’ve all been there – either entering/leaving a store, exiting a bathroom, or grabbing for the trendy little scented bottles of anti-bacterial gel or foam to frantically scrub away and disinfect every living organism from our hands. Our obsession with killing germs seemed to peak about 15-20 years ago when a flood of anti-bacterial products hit the shelves of every store known to man. With washing hands suddenly gone passé, marketing campaigns flooded our lives of living in fear of germs. What ever happened to good old washing your hands with soap and hot water? That didn’t work? Instead, we were coerced to slather our hands in anti-bacterial gel (no washing needed! I’m sure that scrubbed off all the germs….) and then hope we didn’t pass out from the noxious gases of these alienistic concoctions. What scared me even more was how quickly these anti-bacterial hand gels invaded schools and classrooms. These products were promoted as helping to prevent the spread of viruses and sicknesses by killing germs on the spot….and killing all of the healthy bacteria off of kids’ hands (I recall my pediatrician when I was a child encouraging us to play in the dirt and actually expose ourselves to germs to help build our immunity…and it worked). As a teacher who checked things out in-depth, I became concerned with the level of chemicals that laced all of this hand gel that my students – CHILDREN – were dumping on their hands ALL DAY. Remember my whole lecture months back about how our skin is our largest organ and anything that touches it enters our bloodstream within 60 seconds? Well, that includes these chemical baths of “hand sanitizers” – not to mention triclosan, the main ingredient in hand sanitizing gels and sprays, is a registered PESTICIDE with the FDA. Hmmm…. Now would you allow your child to go rub his/her hands with bug killer found in your garage? Then why is it in millions of products – ranging from toothpaste, to hand gels, to lotions……and even toys?!?! It’s time we become aware of (and hopefully take a cautionary stand against) these “anti-bacterial” products that are touting to promote health and well-being…when in reality, they are doing the opposite.
Did you even know that persistent use of antibacterial soaps and other products in your home can cause your pipes to clog up? There is a natural balance of bacteria that live in your drains and help “eat” organic material in your drains, which in turn, helps them from clogging. Well, reports are showing a sharp increase in the rate of plumbing problems in home related to use of anti-bacterial products because they are killing off even the healthy bacteria in your home (and just think what it does to the healthy bacteria balance on and in your body….the same healthy bacteria that SUPPORTS your immune system)!??! Some individuals have become so paranoid over germs that they incessantly clean to destroy anything on every surface (and I am not criticizing keeping a CLEAN home – there is a difference between keeping a clean home and overdoing it with toxic cleaning chemicals in fear of bacteria). Unfortunately, with savvy marketing by the companies who manufacture these anti-bacterial products, they have made people think that any microbe living near you will make you ill, spread the flu, and cause outbreaks of every pandemic. Do you think the microbes on your counter are giving you the flu? That’s not what is giving you the flu. You have the flu because you poison your body with all these other toxic products, metabolic disrupters in the food supply and poor nutrition. These poisons create a weak body and weakened immune system, allowing opportunistic bacteria to replicate that wouldn’t stand a chance if you had a healthy immune defense in the first place.
In reality, the use of antimicrobial soaps promotes the spread of superbugs around your house because it does not allow the natural “healthy” bacteria live in balance and take care of the bad bacteria. Now I understand that you would want to disinfect if you had raw meat touch a surface or someone in your home was sick with strep throat and you wanted to “disinfect” those surfaces. You can – without the use of harmful chemicals (read the end of the article to learn about healthier disinfecting options). What I am getting at is if you want to be a healthy individual, you have to have a little immune “distress” (meaning you are exposed to natural levels of bacteria). If you don’t, your immune system doesn’t learn how to defend itself. Your immune system makes a pattern of every invading microbe, and it remembers that pattern forever, so it knows how to beat that invader in the future. If you try to maintain a sterile environment, then your immune system never gets to learn how to do its job. You need some level of exposure to these germs or mild infectious agents if you want to have an active immune system. (And this is why there is belief around the concept that all of these anti-bacterial products used in schools can actually spread illness rather than combat it because it destroys the healthy immunological response in children, not to mention expose them to dangerous chemicals).
Recent studies from Europe reveal that the “deadly antibacterial chemical triclosan is also now showing up in persistently high levels in lakes and waterways around the world, as well as in human breast milk and blood plasma.” Hmmm…fabulous. “This chemical has been on the market since 1972 and it was not until 1998 that the first serious effects were discovered,” says the report, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Science Pollution Research.
So what’s the big deal about triclosan, anyway? Well, triclosan exposure is linked to causing antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” heart damage, and potentially even cancer, among various other health conditions. With this knowledge currently known, it is vital that this chemical be better monitored and regulated. Triclosan was first added to commercial liquid hand soap in 1987. Four years later, nearly 80 percent of commercial liquid hand soaps contained it, the researchers noted. And what happens to this chemical when people use triclosan-containing products to wash their hands and dishes? About 96 percent of it ends up in residential drains, leading to large loads of triclosan-contaminated water that enters treatment plants.
Unfortunately, triclosan cannot be completely removed during the wastewater treatment process. So when treated wastewater is released back into the environment, there’s triclosan still in it and sunlight converts some of the triclosan (and related compounds) into dioxins. Recent studies conducted at Virginia Tech have found that triclosan can react with chlorine in the tap water (which as I wrote about in a previous article several months ago….our tap water is FULL of chlorine, amongst other nasty chemicals). Guess what you get when triclosan and chlorine unite? (it’s not something you would want anywhere near you.) CHLOROFORM. Yea….the stuff that you would see being used in movies when bad guys would slap a cloth over someone’s face laced with this chemical to knock them out and kill them! This is a toxic chemical that can give you cancer.
That’s not all. Triclosan’s chemical structure is similar to Agent Orange – a highly toxic herbicide that was notoriously used to kill foliage during the Vietnam War. It was later linked to high rates of birth defects, neurological conditions and cancer in those that came into contact with the chemical. What’s scary about triclosan use is that once you slather it on your skin or use it in products like toothpaste, “Manufacturers of a number of triclosan-containing toothpaste and soap products claim that the active ingredient continues to work for as long as 12 hours after use,” says the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP). “Thus, consumers are exposed to triclosan for much longer than the 20 seconds it takes to wash their hands or brush their teeth,” adds the group, suggesting that this triclosan persistence is also more common throughout the environment than previously believed.
According to European researchers, many European countries do not even regulate triclosan at all, which means there is no way to know just how much of the chemical is accumulating in and tainting waterways throughout the continent; this mirrors the same concern here in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still considers triclosan to be safe, but is currently in the process of evaluating emerging science on the chemical that increasingly questions its safety. According to a more recent FDA announcement, triclosan is linked to causing hormone disruption in animals, which may also be problematic in humans.
BEWARE – triclosan is not the only chemical to be cautious of; there are other chemicals as well which have questionable chemical profiles for human safety.
– Ethyl alcohol is a common ingredient in hand sanitizer. It is linked to reproductive toxicity, cancer and birth defects.
– Benzalkonium Chloride (BAC) – another antibacterial agent that is used in sanitizing products and is linked to cancer, allergies and organ toxicity.
OK, SO NOW WHAT?!?! (I think many of you ask this after reading my articles…haha…) Don’t be mad at me if you now despise that cute little hand sanitizer holder that’s strapped around your purse (I used to have one, too… it’s OK). Yes, I would recommend getting rid of all of the hand sanitizer gels that contain triclosan, ethyl alcohol, or BAC (despite how awesome some of them may smell….companies like Bath and Body Works have come up with some fancy scents over the years…..). I know a few people who are so addicted to using their hand sanitizer, it’s become a staple in their lives to squeeze the stuff on their hands after doing EVERYTHING. Embrace the fact that there are safer and healthier alternatives. In fact, there are many natural alternatives to these chemicals that work just as well if not better as antiseptic cleansers. Most of these naturally antibacterial ingredients are essential oils, which are the “essence” of various plants that are distilled down into their purest form. They often contain organisms that are very potent in fighting bacteria. Not only that, some of them also act as anti-fungal agents and even as natural antibiotics. Don’t worry – none of them require you to run around with a necklace of garlic or chant any ritualistic mantra to ward-off germs.
– THYME – One such essential oil is that of the thyme plant. You may know this herb as a delicious way to season foods. However, thyme has recently been proven to be an even more potent antibacterial agent than many chemicals commonly used in soaps and hand cleansers. (Many of the natural anti-bacterial household cleaning sprays use thyme as the anti-bac agent; it has a distinctive smell).
– LAVENDER – Another essential oil that has strong antibacterial properties is lavender. Lavender is mostly known as the “relaxing” oil and is often used to calm the nerves. It is often overlooked as an antibacterial agent. However, it is indeed excellent for topical use on the skin due its rare dual ability to soothe and calm the skin while also killing bacteria.
– ROSEMARY AND PEPPERMINT – Essential oils of rosemary and peppermint are also good antibacterial agents. Peppermint smells wonderful, but may be a bit harsh for use on human skin in large quantities (I personally use peppermint oil all the time, have sensitive skin, and never had an issue with it being too harsh). However it would be a good addition to a household cleaner.
– CITRUS OILS – Many of the citrus essential oils are excellent at killing bacteria; all possess antibacterial properties and sometimes even anti-fungal or antiviral properties..
– Lemon (Lemon juice can also be a great part of a natural astringent for the skin when diluted down to a lower acidity.)
OTHER GREAT NATURAL ANTI-BACTERIAL PRODUCTS:
– VINEGAR: Most types of vinegar are great at killing surface bacteria. When diluted in water, vinegar is gentle enough to use on most furniture and even may be used topically on the skin if desired. If you find the smell of vinegar to be unpleasant, you can not only dilute it with distilled or purified water, but also add some fragrant essential oils.
– HOT WATER: Hot water is an often forgotten way to kill bacteria. It is the most simple, readily available way to help rid surfaces of bacteria and other surface contaminants. Of course, it can be used in conjunction with any of the other aforementioned ingredients to make an inexpensive, yet potent natural antibacterial cleaner.
Now that you are armed with this information, think about what you want killing off bacteria (and how much of it) in your home and on your family. With our environment and bodies being bombarded by thousands of chemicals and toxins on a DAILY BASIS, start with the source of one of the most invasive products today. We all know our intention is to do good, but unfortunately when companies do not have our health in their best interest, we need to take matters into our own hands and become informed, educated individuals. I used to use triclosan products on a daily basis, thinking I was doing something good, when all along, I was exposing my body to harmful chemicals. When in doubt if something you are using could be potentially dangerous, look it up and conduct a simple search on what it’s made of and any warnings that could be out there. Like I always say, READ LABELS!!!