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Antibacterial Products - Green Babies Don't Need Them Print E-mail
Tara Smith   
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Antibacterial Products - Green Babies Don't Need Them When you're going to have a baby, or just had a baby, it's instinctive to become fiercely protective. Newborn babies' immune systems are just developing, and all parents want to avoid germs, illness and disease. In an effort to help protect against germs and bacteria many parents turn to popular 'antibacterial' products. But some may wonder if these products are really as safe and effective as they claim.

Antibacterial soaps and products first became popular in the 1990s. The main chemical in most antibacterial products is triclosan, a synthetic antimicrobial and anti-fungal agent, that works by targeting the reproductive compounds located in the cell walls of bacteria. The chemical was initially developed as a disinfectant for hospitals, but quickly gained popularity with consumers as marketers preyed on our common fear of germs and bacteria. Today you can find antibacterial versions of popular consumer products including, hand wash, body wash, toothpaste, face wash, cosmetics and even on toothbrushes. And under the brand name 'Microban', triclosan is sprayed on clothing, children's products and other surfaces. Despite the ever-growing presence of these products, there is controversy over their safety and their effectiveness.

A comprehensive study at the University of Michigan last year found that not only were antibacterial products no more effective at preventing illness than plain soap, but that they didn't remove any more bacteria from hands than those washed with plain soap. Additionally, there is some concern over the safety of the chemicals used, primarily with the chemical triclosan.

Mutant bacteria and other nasty things
The primary concern with antibacterial products is that they can create antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Because of the way triclosan works (it doesn't destroy the bacteria) it is possible that certain bacteria could mutate and become resistant. Initial studies found that the common bacteria, e-coli became resistant with exposure to as little as 0.1 percent triclosan soap.

Others are concerned with the toxic effects of the chemical. One study demonstrated that when triclosan was mixed with water and exposed to sunlight, it created cancer-causing chloroform. When combined with other chemicals contained in treated water, the amount of chloroform created could easily exceed the EPA's designated safe limits. While this might not pose an immediate threat inside homes, the concern lies in the effects these chemicals will have on the environment, including animals and groundwater. Another study completed in late 2007 found that triclocarban, another popular antibacterial chemical, could disrupt endocrine function in rats and humans. Endocrine disruption can lead to cancer and reproductive failure.

Growing to love your own bacteria

Another huge concern is the effect that antibacterial products have on the natural bacterial balance of our bodies. Health researchers are now coming to realise the symbiotic relationship humans have with bacteria. In fact much of our immune system is bolstered by these "healthy bacteria", and so killing all of these bacteria can, in fact, weaken our immune systems.

If you are using antibacterial products, you may want to considering switching to plain old soap and water, especially if you are paying a premium for these products. Despite the concerns with the toxicity of the products, it seems silly to pay more for products that have been proven to be no more effective than regular soap and water. Many studies are starting to show that our fear of germs and bugs and over-cleanliness is weakening our immune systems and may be related to the rise in autoimmune diseases such as asthma and allergies. So if you and your baby are otherwise healthy, try not to worry so much about germs and bacteria. Exposure to normal amounts of these things are what builds our immune systems. And if you have an immune-compromised baby, considering using more natural antibacterial products made with essential oils.

Tara Smith is a mom, perennial researcher, reader and author of, a website that helps parents "go green" for their baby and family.To learn more green, organic and natural living ideas and tips visit
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