The Possible Hazards of Antibacterial Soap
It’s interesting to note that there have been many healthy human populations throughout our history, even long before the advent of antibacterial soap. In fact, the collective fascination with adding chemical ingredients to bar and liquid soaps in order to help fight infections only began in recent decades. Since then, much evidence has emerged to suggest that antibacterial soaps don’t clean us any more thoroughly than their “old-fashioned predecessors” do. What’s more, they may pose health concerns both on personal and environmental levels.
The most disturbing concern is that these new kinds of cleansers may actually contribute to a general sanitation problem by promoting the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibacterial soaps don’t just kill disease-causing bacteria. They kill every kind of bacteria that is susceptible to them. If resistant bacteria were then to form, they could easily dominate their surrounding environment (be it a household or larger ecosystem) due to a lack of competition.
The level at which antibacterial soaps are being used in the average household makes this scenario a distinct possibility. The collective phobia that exists around bacteria has contributed to the development and subsequent popularity of new cleansers whose personal and environmental impact we’ve yet to gauge. One of the most prominent of these is tricoslan, which can be found not only in soaps but also deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpastes and an increasing number of other consumer products. Its overuse could cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop. These, in turn, would rearrange the competitive hierarchy within their ecosystem.
Unfortunately, such a scenario would develop without any worthy cause to justify it. The FDA has considered restricting the use of antibacterial soaps because its panel of experts has not found them to be any more effective than regular soaps in combating infections. Traditional cleansers like soap and hot water, chlorine bleach, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are all sufficient for the average household’s sanitation needs. Most of the common diseases that we face are caused by viruses, anyhow, which are not destroyed by antibacterial products.
Our race survived for eons and produced many healthy men and women without the aid of our new bacteria-fighting products. Babies even need a certain level of exposure to germs in order for their immune systems to develop properly. Evidence suggests that we may be compromising our own adult systems as well through our increasing reliance upon antibacterial soaps. In a way, this reliance reveals a certain distrust of our environment (which is seen as hostile) and our bodies (which are seen as overly vulnerable). We may need to start trusting ourselves – and the kinds of natural products that kept us clean for so long in the past – once again.