Growing number of scientists now believe antimicrobial soaps cause more harm than good

Courtesy: MGN

If you buy antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps, scientists say save your money and protect your health.

Antimicrobials are added to more than 2,000 consumer and personal-care products, like toothpaste, soap and clothing.

They're also in plenty of products you wouldn't expect, like paint, school supplies, food storage containers and exercise mats.

"in general, for consumer products like school supplies, highlighters, the answer is no, there is not any clear benefit from using antimicrobials in those applications,” said Avery Lindeman, the deputy director of the Green Science Policy Institute.

The Green Science Policy Institute is one of a growing number of public-interest groups and scientists saying that common antibacterial and antimicrobial products don't provide health benefits and cause health and environmental harm.

In El Paso, University of Texas at El Paso biology professor Dr. Charles Spencer designed a course where students study this very topic.

“The danger of antibacterial is even though the germs on your hand might not be dangerous to you, they could pick up resistance to antibacterial. Bacteria is known to be very promiscuous,” said Dr. Spencer.

He said consumers should be the most concerned with antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps creating a resistance to antibiotics.

“If those are our primary means of treating disease and we lose the ability to treat disease, then we have set ourselves back 100 years,” said Dr. Spencer.

More than 200 scientists and medical professionals just published a statement in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives warning consumers of the dangers, which include: cancer-causing byproducts, antibiotic resistance, hormone disruption, environmental pollution and chronic toxicity.

"Calling something antimicrobial almost implies a benefit to the average consumer, so we're conditioned to think germs are bad. And the average consumer doesn't necessarily ask -- and they shouldn't have to ask -- whether that product has been evaluated in use that they want to use it for,” said Lindeman.

Last year, the FDA banned 19 antimicrobial chemicals in over-the-counter consumer wash products.

But the scientists say that the FDA didn't go far enough and that consumer soaps and washes that contained those chemicals now contain substitutes that may be worse.

“We don't know for all of those what the effects on humans will be,” said Dr. Spencer.

The FDA's rule banning the 19 chemicals did not affect consumer hand "sanitizer" or wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.

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