Washing our hands is something we do many times a day because it’s a proven way to kill germs. So why should I talk about something you already do? Because it’s an effective — but often overlooked — way to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals, especially for children. Ironically, some soaps contain chemicals you should avoid, so choosing a safer soap is important and more challenging than it should be. Follow these guidelines from the Environmental Working Group*.
Wash your hands to reduce toxic chemical exposures… and decrease spread of infection.
As you know, hand washing with basic soap and water effectively prevents the spread of infection. It also prevents the transfer of toxic chemicals from your hands to your mouth. Scientists have found that children actually ingest more chemicals off their hands than from mouthing toxic products directly, such as arsenic from playing on older wooden swing sets or fire retardants found on some electronics.
Timing is important — be sure that children wash hands before eating and, for those who put their hands in their mouths frequently, after playing too.
A word about hand sanitizers: These waterless cleansers can be convenient, but are designed to kill bacteria — not to remove dust and dirt, which is often how chemicals migrate. Washing with soap and water, on the other hand, kills bacteria and more thoroughly removes grime from hands to reducer any toxic exposures. The FDA does prohibit triclosan from being in any sanitizer left on the skin, so they are safe that way. Purell is a good one because it contains mostly alcohol, but they add an ingredient to make it taste horrible, so that children won’t want to injest it.
Skip anti-bacterial soap. Really.
Anti-bacterial soaps do kill bacteria and microbes — but so do plain soap and water. A U.S. FDA advisory committee found that use of antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over plain soap and water.
The main reason to avoid anti-bacterial soaps is its active ingredient: triclosan (and the related triclocarbon). Triclosan is an anti-bacterial chemical found in many consumer products, and it’s nearly ubiquitous in liquid hand soap. It is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and even low levels of triclosan may disrupt thyroid function. Further, the American Medical Association recommends that triclosan not be used in the home, as it may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
It also affects the natural environment. Wastewater treatment does not remove all of the chemical, which means it ends up in our lakes, rivers and water sources. That’s especially unfortunate since triclosan is very toxic to aquatic life.
How to reduce your exposure?
Use these guidelines from the Environmental Working Group. Consider supporting them too. http://www.ewg.org
- Forgo antibacterial soap. The American Medical Association says not to use it at home.
- Watch for triclosan (and triclocarban) in personal care products.
- Read ingredient labels or use Skin Deep to find products free of triclosan and triclocarban, its chemical cousin.
- Avoid “antibacterial” products.
Triclosan is used in everyday products like toothbrushes, toys, and cutting boards that may be labeled “antibacterial,” or make claims such as “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer.”
Triclosan may be in these products:
soap and dishwashing liquid
personal care products
kitchenware and plastic food containers
flooring and carpets
clothing and fabrics
* The Environmental Working Group is the nation’s largest environmental health and advocacy organization. Their research helps protect us from things manufacturers might not want public. They use the power of information to create cutting-edge research and advocacy that transform government policies and the marketplace in order to conserve land and water, produce and use energy responsibly and ensure that food and consumer products are free of harmful chemicals. They investigate government subsidies that encourage wasteful practices, and support policies that promote thoughtful stewardship of our land and natural resources.
recent news about triclosan: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2013/05/03/popular-antibacterial-soap-ingredient-draws-fda-scrutiny/