Antimicrobial Chemicals in Soaps, Toothpastes Are Harmful, Scientists Warn

If you boast of using antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps for complete hygiene, then stop using them immediately as hundreds of scientists and health professionals have determined antimicrobial chemicals in these products do not confer benefits and, in fact, cause health and environmental harm.

The antimicrobial chemicals are mainly used in several soaps and washes such as toothpastes, detergents, carpets, paints etc, to kill the microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses.

But a consensus statement signed by more than 200 scientists and health professionals from 29 different countries claims the so-called antibacterial chemicals actually do nothing to prevent illness. More worryingly, they might be actively posing a harm to human health and the environment, said the statement.

The statement, “The Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban”, focused on the effects of two specific antimicrobial chemicals, triclosan and triclocarban, on human health. The document pointed out that these ingredients have been widely used for decades in cleaning products but there’s no sufficient evidence showing that these chemicals are safe and effective.

“People think antimicrobial hand soaps offer better protection against illness,” says Barbara Sattler, an environmental health professor at the University of San Francisco. “But generally, antimicrobial soaps perform no better than plain soap and water.”

The Florence Statement calls for manufacturers and communities to limit the production as well as reduce the use of triclosan and triclocarban and also look for their substitute.

“Environmental and human exposures to triclosan and triclocarban are widespread, affecting pregnant women, developing fetuses, and breast-feeding babies,” said Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, professor of engineering at Arizona State University. “We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals.”

Previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had determined that 19 antimicrobial chemicals, including triclosan and triclocarban, were not effective and had banned their use in over-the-counter consumer wash products.

The 200 scientists have welcomed FDA’s ban decision but said that decision seems not to work adequately as some cleaning products still contain triclosan.

“I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps,” says Arlene Blum, PhD, Executive Director of Green Science Policy Institute. “But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse.”

According to Avery Lindeman, deputy director of the Green Policy Institute and one of the signatories of the Florence Statement, some manufacturers are removing this chemical but unfortunately using such substitutes that may be just as harmful or worse than this chemical.

The Florence Statement is published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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