ecostore Australia Blog
A few years ago, only a few dozen products containing antibacterial agents were being marketed for the home yet today more than 700 are available. One of the questions we need to ask is, are we taking our obsession with cleanliness and fear of germs too far – and what are the risks, if any, of over-using antibacterial products?
It might seem counter intuitive but the risks of developing an allergy as a result of living in an excessively clean environment are very real. According to the Hygiene Hypothesis, factors such as over-cleaning, smaller family sizes and living in the city, have meant that many of us are no longer exposed to the microorganisms that we evolved with and which are important for the development of a strong and healthy immune system. Graham Rook, University College London, says our immune system is a bit like our brain – we have to exercise it and expose it to a healthy environment (germs and all) so that it matures properly.
Meanwhile, antibacterial products like cleaners, soaps, toothbrushes, dishwashing detergents, and hand lotions keep multiplying and we buy them believing that they’ll protect our families from dangerous germs. Dr. Richard Gallo, University of California says, ‘If you keep your environment too clean, by using too many antibacterial soaps for example, then your immune system becomes more sensitised to any irritant that comes its way’.
So what’s the answer? According to our research, unless you’re in a situation where you’re likely to be exposed to pathogens (germs that could cause disease) it’s a good idea to steer clear of antibacterial products and let ordinary cleaners and plain soap and water do the job.
If your family is generally healthy, then according to the American Medical Association, regular washing of hands with soap and water is all that is required to get rid of germs.
Some antibacterial chemicals come with other risks for your health and our environment:
One of the most commonly used antibacterial chemicals on the market is Triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent used in body care products such as soaps, hand washes, toothpastes and cosmetics. Since Triclosan was first added to commercial liquid hand soaps in 1987 the percentage of those products containing it has increased to at least 76%. The NICNAS (National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme) in Australia has determined that it is hazardous and should be classified as an irritant to skin, eyes and respiratory system, and toxic by inhalation. Studies show Triclosan affects hormone regulation in animals, is toxic to aquatic bacteria and inhibits photosynthesis in groups of algae that are responsible for a large part of the photosynthesis activity on the planet.
Benzalkonium chloride is a known irritant used as an anti-bacterial in many consumer products. It has the potential to cause permanent damage if in contact with eyes and is highlighted as especially dangerous for people with asthma or skin conditions such as eczema. It is found in many household disinfectants and cleaning products and at the concentrations used in household cleaners, can lead to the development of resistant bacteria in the home. It is toxic to birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates and is not readily biodegradable.