Why You Should Not Use Antibacterial Cleaning Products

Good habits (Shutterstock/Alexander Raths)

Every day you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, probably take a hot shower, and then go to work or school; or both if you’re a teacher. We can agree that modern society cares about hygiene a bit more than it is supposed to.

Have you ever asked yourself: Why is that so?

Well, if you are now reading this article on Spiderest’s website, I assume that you have an internet connection. That implies that you’re probably living in a developed country and you have access to clean water. So you don’t need to worry about this essential life-sustaining resource because you have it basically for free. Right? Now, I’m not saying that you should feel bad about it – you shouldn’t! I just want to bring to attention that the availability of drinking water is a giant ‘problem solved’. That is a relief! However, for our brain that’s an empty void that needs to be filled with another life-concerning problem (e.g., hygiene).

Before you start judging me for making this statement, please continue reading and I promise I’ll get to the point.

Hygiene, both personal and domestic, are very important! Otherwise, we would be having big problems with spreading pathogens and disease outbreaks. But if you live in an ultra-clean environment you may eventually develop a fear of contamination and germs—mysophobia (germophobia)—especially if depression or anxiety runs in your family.

What do germophobes do?

Frightened man (illustrated)/Pixabay

They panic! By becoming obsessed with cleanliness, they tirelessly clean themselves and everything around them. The problem grows bigger when they see a commercial about an antibacterial soap or body wash. That’s when they rush to the nearest store, all in hopes of finally getting rid of microbes from the surface of their bodies.

Let’s see what Alanna Collen, a science writer with a PhD in evolutionary biology, said about these products in her famous book 10% Human:

When antibacterial products claim to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, they are not referring to tests on people’s hands, or on kitchen surfaces, but in pots. Testers put a large number of bacteria directly into the liquid soap, and after a period of time – far longer than the soap would be in contact with your skin – they see how many are still alive. Claiming a 100 percent kill rate is impossible because no one can ever prove a complete absence of anything from a small sample. As scientists say: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Exactly which strains of bacteria these soaps kill is rarely declared; the 99.9 percent refers to the proportion of individuals killed, not that 99.9 percent of the world’s bacterial species can be eliminated. It’s worth bearing in mind that many pathogenic bacteria can form spores anyway, effectively hibernating until the danger has passed, regardless of the chemicals used.

Let me tell you something about killing most or all of the bacteria on your skin. The microbiota that naturally exists on your skin forms a layer of defense on the skin’s surface. Let’s call them good microbes. Just like gut microbiota, this helpful layer crowds out potential pathogens and regulates your skin’s immune system response.

Regular soap vs. Antibacterial soap

Marketing has screwed us over many, many times. Scientists and medical experts are hit hard by the marketing era (Thanks a lot, Freud’s nephew!) because the ‘loud ones’ took over all the attention and knew exactly which part of the brain to activate – the one associated with fear. The evidence for that is a commercial that warns you 5 times a day to buy something that will keep you safe.

Adverts propagate the idea that killer germs are on the loose and we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones by purchasing cleaning products with antibacterials that kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses in our home. What advertisers left unsaid is that regular soap does just as good job, only it won’t harm you or the environment in the process.

Who is the bacteria killer?

This guy!

Triclosan

Numerous household products containing triclosan are shown to be no more effective at reducing bacterial abundance in the home than non-antibacterial products. However, people continue to use them. Even though such compounds are contaminating our water supply where they actually do manage to kill bacteria, these chemicals also disrupt the natural balance of freshwater ecosystems. That way, every consumer should try to reduce his/her ecological footprint by switching to non-antibacterial products. Plus, they’re cheaper.

If that’s not persuasive enough for you, allow me to continue. When ingested, triclosan doesn’t just pass through your system, it sticks around and permeates through your body. “It can be found in human fat tissue, in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, in human breast-milk, and in significant quantities in the urine of 75 percent of people on any given day,“ said Dr. Collen in the above-mentioned book.

In addition, a new study endorses previous concerns on triclosan’s impact on bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Researchers exposed bacteria to triclosan before administering antibiotics to find out whether bacteria will develop resistance to antibiotics. The results have shown that one in ten bacteria exposed to triclosan managed to survive antibiotics versus one in a million bacteria that weren’t exposed to triclosan. That is alerting!

Wash your hands with normal soap

I really hope I scared you with this article. Unlike the irrational fear that you feel when watching or reading adverts about antibacterial products, the one you feel right now is quite rational.

I have to remind you to stay healthy and clean yourself on a regular basis. Take the time to wash your hands, especially when you’ve touched surfaces many others have touched before.

Lazar Kulasevic

Founder of Spiderest.

View all posts by Lazar Kulasevic →

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