Antibacterials: Cleanliness With a Cost

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Washing with soap containing harmful chemicals could cause infertility in women and poor sperm quality in men, but the National Resources Defense Council says health regulators are doing little to help.

For 32 years, the Food and Drug Administration has known about health problems related to the chemicals triclosan and triclocarban that are common in antibacterial or antimicrobial soaps and other products, according to the NRDC, an environmental action nonprofit.

Common products containing the antibacterial and antifungal chemical triclosan, for instance, include Dial liquid hand soaps and Softsoap, as well as Palmolive dish soap and even Colgate Total toothpaste.

The organization recently filed a lawsuit against the government agency to regulate the ingredients. But while the FDA considered removing of these chemicals from soaps in 1978, it never happened.

“FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time,” the agency recently reiterated.

However, studies have found that the chemicals absorbed through the skin can interfere with hormones needed for reproduction and normal child development, the NRDC notes. Effects could include infertility, poor sperm quality and learning and memory problems, the group says.

Widespread use of antibacterial soaps, sanitizers and other products has already been discouraged by many health officials, who said earlier this year that they don’t work any better than washing with regular soap. Moreover, overuse could lead to the development of bacteria strains that are resistant to antibiotics, health experts say.

The FDA warns that harmful chemicals in soaps can also be found in products like clothing, furniture, toys and kitchenware, as well as toothpaste and cosmetics. Drugs, soaps and cosmetics containing triclosan and any other chemical for that matter are required to be listed as an ingredient on product packaging the FDA notes, but there are no rules governing the disclosure of their presence in other household items.

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