Sure, washing our hands or hair may not top the lengthy list of things that may be detrimental to our health. But it should!
A new study reveals that long-term exposure to triclosan, an antimicrobial agent mostly found in personal hygiene products, can lead to the development of cancer and liver fibrosis. The study, led by University of California, San Diego (UCSD) scientists, was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers exposed a group of mice to triclosan for as long as six months. That’s the same as 18 years in humans. They also compared their health with the health of a group of mice never exposed to the agent and determined that triclosan poses a possible risk to human health.
In the study, the exposed mice were more susceptible to tumors in the liver and their tumors were more frequent and larger than those of the unexposed mice.
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What’s triclosan, where is it used, and why?
Today, triclosan is included to a wide variety of consumer products in order to slow down the growth of mildew, fungi and bacteria – or prevent them altogether. In addition to shampoo and liquid hand soap, triclosan can be found in personal hygiene products like deodorant, toothpaste and all kinds of cosmetics. It’s also used as a kind of material preservative in clothing, footwear and various household products.
But triclosan may get in the way of what’s called a constitutive androstane receptor, which is in charge of removing foreign substances from the liver, the UCSD study found. This receptor is found in pretty much every mammal, including us humans.
It’s just the latest research to give consumers pause when it comes to using antibacterial soaps containing triclosan. Previous research also suggested that the common chemical alters hormone regulation in mice.
Other studies have linked antibacterial agents like triclosan with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our bodies – another widespread concern because this makes antibiotics less effective at fighting illness.
In addition, there’s no firm evidence that triclosan benefits the public when used in things like antibacterial soaps, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What’s more, the FDA says that soaps without these antibacterial agents are just as useful in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Scrupulous hand-washing, for one thing, can greatly contribute to getting rid of bacteria, health experts say. Just remember to wash for at least 20 seconds at a time.
Waterless alcohol-based cleansers can be convenient as well, but they are designed to kill bacteria –not to remove dirt and dust, which is often how chemicals migrate. Washing with soap and water kills bacteria and more thoroughly removes grime from hands to reduce any toxic exposures.
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Avoid triclosan to prevent cancer and liver damage
Although more research into triclosan is needed, the FDA last year required that manufacturers of antibacterial soaps and body washes prove that these products are safe with long-term use. The regulators said that manufacturers would have to provide evidence that their products are as safe for household use as regular soap –or even water – by late 2016.
Makers of products that don’t meet a standard requirement would have to remove all claims of superior benefits, reformulate the products or even stop selling them on the market.
In the meantime, read product labels for triclosan and use items that don’t contain the chemical. Remember that washing with regular soap is just as effective as using antibacterial soap in preventing infections, both pesky and severe. Why not play it safe?