Woman checking the ingredients in beauty products. Alternatives Journal. Photo © Yuri Arcurs \ Fotolia.com

Germs, germs, germs: I think we can safely say that we are obsessed with them (some more than others). We do everything we can to avoid them with our anti-bacterial hand sanitizers, soaps, sprays and wipes. There’s definitely something to be said about cleanliness and the prevention of disease but we may have we gone too far in our attempts to create sterile environments.  

The most common anti-bacterial chemical in household products is triclosan, an industrial-strength antimicrobial used for years in hospitals but made its way into consumer goods in the 1990s. This substance, also known as 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol, was registered as a pesticide in 1969 but can now be found in soaps, toothpastes, mouth washes, deodorants, hand sanitizers and household cleaning products. In the name of fighting bacteria, it is also infused into other household items such as garbage bags, socks and kitchen utensils. The problem is, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap and water – and it is putting our health at risk and polluting our water systems.

Triclosan is one of those substances that can only be described as a pollutant when it makes its way into the body. It is an endocrine-disruptor that mimics the thyroid hormone thyroxin, contributing to a multitude of health issues. It can also suppress cells important to immune function and fighting cancer. The kicker is that most of us have it in our bodies. It accumulates in our fat and can even be found in breast milk. When Environmental Defense sampled the urine of eight high profile Canadians for their report The Trouble With Triclosan, seven had levels ranging from low to very high, even those who were careful about what they put on their bodies.

In 2012, there were 1,600 personal care products registered to Health Canada that contained Triclosan. These products not only expose our bodies to a potentially toxic substance but are washed down the drain and end up in our aquatic systems. Triclosan is toxic to frogs, fish and algae. It does not readily breakdown but when it does, it turns into carcinogens dioxin and chloroform. It accumulates in the fat of animals, which inevitably ends up in our food system. It is also contained in the water used in agriculture and has been known to be absorbed into the soy plant through the soil.

One of the most frightening issues with triclosan is its link to the development of superbugs (bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics). The evidence is strong enough that both the Canadian Medical Association and the American Medical Association have advised that it not be used in households. You would think that with all of this germ fighting, we would be decreasing infectious disease rates but, unfortunately, the opposite is true. In 1980, infectious disease was the fifth cause of death in the US. In the last ten years it has climbed up to third. So, really, what are we doing here?

Avoid products that are labelled ‘anti-bacterial’ or have any of the following ingredients listed: triclosan, Amicor, Aquasept, Bactonix, Irgasan DP300, Microban, Monolith, Sanitized, Sapoderm, Ster-Zac, and Ultra-Fresh.

Triclosan is a classic example of a chemical used for industry purposes that should never have made its way into consumer products. It was just another means for chemical companies to make money while taking advantage of loose regulations and scant research. Fortunately, the health impacts have not gone unnoticed by the Canadian government and it is currently under review.

Until triclosan is banned for household use, it’s up to you to protect yourself and those around you. Avoid products that are labelled ‘anti-bacterial’ or have any of the following ingredients listed: triclosan, Amicor, Aquasept, Bactonix, Irgasan DP300, Microban, Monolith, Sanitized, Sapoderm, Ster-Zac, and Ultra-Fresh. If you want to appeal to the Canadian government for tougher regulations, you can visit Environmental Defence and sign their petition.

Read the rest of this series: Parabens | Fragrance | Petrochemicals | Formaldehyde

Jessica Burman is the founder and owner of organic skin care line Cocoon Apothecary. She likes getting down to the bottom of things and exposing toxins lurking in every day products, and blogs for A\J about how everyday consumer choices can effect your health and the state of the planet. She is passionate about ditching synthetic chemicals in favor of simple, time-tested alternatives. She lives in Kitchener and is a mom to two youngs girls and too many pets. 

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