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Antibacterial products: More harm than good?I live in New York City–home to some of the best restaurants and attractions in the world, as well as nearly 8.4 million people. I’ve never considered myself much of a germophobe, however, when I moved here last August, it took only one week of morning commutes on the city’s subway to invest in a travel-size hand sanitizer to store in my purse. What I didn’t realize was that the product likely contained triclosan, a pesticide found in numerous antibacterial household and personal care products including liquid hand soaps and sanitizers, toothpastes, and cleaning products. What’s worse, this toxin could be harming our bodies as well as the environment.

Some studies have shown that, in pregnant women, triclosan can limit the amount of estrogen being supplied to the fetus, disrupting the flow of oxygen to the baby and negatively affecting brain development.  The pesticide has been found in rivers and streams, and it breaks down into methyl triclosan, a chemical extremely toxic to aquatic life. The use of antibacterials with triclosan has also been linked to increased allergies in children. What’s more, antibacterial soap containing the chemical aren’t actually any more effective than regular soap and water in fighting infections, according to a 2005 FDA advisory panel—and it may actually lead to bacterial resistance, says the American Medical Association.

Due to these findings, the FDA and the EPA are currently reviewing evidence on triclosan’s safety in consumer products. According to the FDA’s website, they will present their findings this spring–but it could take years before any sort of regulatory measures are taken. For now, your best bet is to avoid products containing the pesticide altogether. Check the labels of the product you’re buying—if it’s a cosmetic or an over-the-counter drug (such as toothpaste or antibacterial soap), triclosan will be listed as an ingredient on the label. However, triclosan can also be found in some not-so-obvious household items, such as trash bags, sponges, or even toys. The key here is to remember that triclosan is used to kill bacteria, so if you see the words “antibacterial,” or “fights germs,” skip it, as it probably means the item contains triclosan . Here are a few eco-friendly and healthy alternatives for products that typically contain this potentially harmful pesticide:

  • Hand soap and sanitizers Try Clean Well’s All-Natural Antibacterial Hand Soap—not only is it free of toxins and kid-safe, it’s also  readily biodegradable . ($9.99 for a hand-sanitizer and soap starter pack, cleanwelltoday.com)
  • Household cleaners Seventh Generation offers everything from multi-surface to toilet bowl cleaners (each are $4.99 for 32 ounces); they even have hypoallergenic laundry detergent ($19.99 for 150 ounces) and trash bags made from recycled plastics ($5.99 for a box of 20 30-gallon bags). But the best part about this eco-friendly brand? They donate 10 percent of their profits to various nonprofit environmental and health organizations. (seventhgeneration.com)
  • Cosmetics and facial care Not only does LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics make many of their products by hand, using fresh, organic fruits and vegetables—they also have a Green Policy, dedicated to minimal packaging, using recycled and biodegradable materials to eliminate waste, and sourcing their raw materials in a sustainable manner. Offering everything from Henna hair dye ($23 for 11.4 ounces) to vegan lip balm ($7 for 10 grams), this cruelty-free cosmetic company is sure to have something to make both you and the planet feel good. (lushusa.com)
  • Toothpaste Who would have thought the very stuff you use to keep your mouth clean could actually be harming you? Luckily, Tom’s of Maine offers a line of natural care products ranging from toothpaste ($5 for a 4.7 ounce tube) to dental floss and deodorant ($5.50 for 2.25 ounces). The company also donates 10 percent of their pre-tax profit to numerous charitable organizations, like The Nature Conservancy and River Tree Arts(tomsofmaine.com)

For more information about antibacterial products and triclosan, be sure to check out Dr. Rosen’s Ask the Doctor column in the latest issue of KIWI!

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