All parents know the importance of good hand washing. We first learn it in the hospital when everyone who meets the new baby has to wash their hands before holding him. And as parents, we often keep an arsenal of “magic soap,” or hand sanitizers in our purses, cars and kids’ backpacks. But, should we use antibacterials to keep our kids germ free? Sounds like a good idea, right? Maybe not.
Historically, antibacterials were found in doctors’ offices and hospitals as hand sanitizers to slow the spread of germs. But starting in the 1990s the general population became exposed to the wide availability of antibacterials in soaps, body washes, detergents, and household cleaning agents. And since that time, sales have boomed.
Just last month, in December 2014, the FDA proposed a rule that would require manufacturers of antibacterial soaps and washes to provide substantial data demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of antibacterials containing triclosan or triclocarban. Why? New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits.
There are three prominent concerns with antibacterial use:
- Killing off good bacteria can create worse bacteria. There are two types of antibacterials: non-residue producing (antibacterial agents that evaporate such as chlorine, alcohol, and peroxide) and residue producing (substances that leave residue to remain on the skin such as triclosan, and benzalkonium chloride). Non-residue producing agents kill bacteria quickly and effectively. On the other hand, residue-producing agents such as triclosan tend to target only specific parts of the bacteria, which could lead to more resistant bacteria, or triclosan-mutant bacteria. The concern is that we are killing off potentially good bacteria and increasing the production of bad, resistant bacteria. About 75% of antibacterial hand washes contain antibacterial-agents with triclosan. Baby Pibu™ products do not contain any triclosan.
- Triclosan is bad for both the body and the environment. Triclosan is also causing concern among environmental groups. Triclosan gets washed away and ends up in our sewage plants and water sources. Bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Florida and the Carolinas were found to contain traces of triclosan, and it was found in the bile of other fish. Animal studies have shown that triclosan may alter the way hormones work in the body. Even though animal studies are not the same as human studies, the FDA is noting the hormone concern and considers it a serious risk to monitor. In addition, laboratory studies demonstrate the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This could mean that certain antibiotics may not kill off bacteria as they should.
- Repeated use of antibacterials may increase our risk of allergies. As previously mentioned, using antibacterials regularly means that we may be killing off our good bacteria. This could lead to an increased allergy risk by supporting the “hygiene hypothesis.” The hygiene hypothesis says that less bacteria means our immune systems aren’t stimulated trying to fight off germs. This could lead to an imbalance in our immune system and it may become more sensitized to our own bodies. All of that means we see an increase in allergies.
So what should we do? We want to keep our kids safe from germs. Here are a couple of recommendations:
- Look for hand sanitizers and hand washes that contain 70% alcohol, bleach or peroxide. These are the best at killing bacteria because they attack the entire bacteria rather than a specific part. Look for alcohol, bleach or peroxide to be listed as an active ingredient.
- Use good, old-fashioned hand washing. In fact, outside of hospitals and healthcare environments, this is the method that the CDC recommends. Just wash your hands with conventional soap and water. Remember that alcohol from hand sanitizer kills bacteria, but it doesn’t physically remove dirt or anything else you may have touched. A 30-second hand wash with soap is best at removing both the dirt and bacteria.
Yes, we want to continue to keep our kids safe from germs. But maybe good old soap and water is the way to go.
Stay healthy! ~ The Baby Pibu™ Team