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The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.
We’re coming in out of the sun to start exploring body care products…a market with endless choices! Today, we’re starting this body care journey with the most basic of hygiene products: soap.
Confession time: when I started researching soap, I had a plan. I thought I’d research some “red flag” ingredients, find some natural alternatives, and move on my happy, healthy way. Instead, I quickly found a red flag ingredient that’s easy to avoid and easy to live without. Please forgive the tangent, but we’re going to focus on antibacterial soaps this week. Bath soaps and shower gels next week! Pinkie swear.
Why do we use soap?
For the most part, we use soap to remove dirt and prevent odors. Some smart scientist discovered that soap and water also kills and prevents the spread of bacteria. Then someone realized that they can market “antibacterial” soaps by adding a chemical that is designed to kill bacteria. Triclosan kills bacteria all by itself, even without soap. What is triclosan?
Triclosan – a pesticide that is a commonly used antibacterial agent. The FDA gave triclosan a “pass” (meaning they didn’t research it too thoroughly), and it has been in our products, unregulated, since 1972. However, The FDA has been promising to take another look at triclosan for years now. A review is expected this year.
How does triclosan work? Other disinfectants, like alcohol or peroxide, work by destroying bacterial cell walls, popping them open like a piñata and killing it on the spot. Triclosan works by sneaking into the cell, messing with one of the bacterium’s enzymes that will lead to its eventual demise. Triclosan attacks a pathway; bacteria learn to defend this pathway.
What happens when, for example, they expose the tuberculosis bacteria (TB) to triclosan? The bacterium will learn to block triclosan’s pathway. The kicker? Several vaccines, including the TB vaccine, use the same pathway as triclosan to kill the cell, rendering the TB vaccine (and triclosan) worthless. The result? Triclosan can create strains of vaccine-resistant tuberculosis and other diseases.
Are there health concerns?
Besides creating superhero-strength TB and other “super bugs”, studies have shown that triclosan is a known hormone disruptor, interfering with normal hormone development and affecting how the brain and reproductive systems work. Yikes. Not to mention…
Triclosan produces what?!
Chloroform. As it turns out, when triclosan comes in contact with chlorinated water (tap water) it reacts and forms chloroform. In 1994 (yes, almost TEN years ago), the CDC issued an IDLH on chloroform. IDLH? Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health.
Where is triclosan found? You will find triclosan (and the similar chemical “triclocarban”) added to antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers, shampoos, deodorants and antiperspirants, exercise equipment, kitchen cutting boards, clothing, and even some toys. [You’ll also see a product called “Microban” on some surfaces. I wish I could tell you what Microban is, but the company doesn’t disclose the information. We are told that “Microban technology protects household consumer products such as countertops, pool and spa linings, water filtration systems and sinks from product deterioration, stain and odor causing bacteria, mold and mildew.” Did you catch that? Microban protects the products. It’s not necessarily there to protect you.]
Don’t we need triclosan? Nope. Studies have shown that using triclosan is no better than regular soap, water, and proper handwashing.
What should we do? Personally, I’m adding triclosan to my “avoid” list. I’ve started checking labels and have seen triclosan added to oh so many things: soap, hand sanitizers, face cleansers (such as some Murad products), toothpaste (such as Colgate Total), and many other products.
Are there more natural options? We know that simply washing your hands with plain soap is as effective at killing germs as triclosan, but how about when you don’t have soap and water available? Let’s find a natural hand sanitizer, one without triclosan or other “red flag” chemicals like retinyl palmitate, propylene glycol, fragrance, chemical dyes, etc.
An internet search led me to some different products which look familiar. Here is a quick summary of three brands that I’ve come across in the stores. Feel free to comment with your own additions!
I’ve seen the CleanWell brand at Target for years. CleanWell contains no alcohol or triclosan and uses Thyme Oil as its active ingredient. As it turns out, thyme oil contains 20-54% thymol, a strong astringent and is fantastic at killing germs! I’ve tried their hand sanitizers (about $3-4 each) and have no complaints. They smell good and are easy to carry around. For my friends who have a bottle of triclosan-laced hand sanitizer strapped to their bags at all times, this makes an excellent substitution!
I’ve seen this product by the entryway at my local Whole Foods. They have hand sanitizer pumps stationed by the exit, an amenity I’ve always enjoyed. EO’s hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and uses essential oils to add efficacy and natural scent. Alcohol is an effective sanitizer, but it will sting any cuts or open skin. It doesn’t dry out my hands, though, which is a plus. It has a light natural lavender scent, which hasn’t bothered my sensitive nose. Locally, I can only find EO at Whole Foods, but you can also order it from Amazon for the same price ($4 for 2 ounces).
Ah, good ol’ Dr. Bronner, the mad scientist of the organic soap world. Whenever I’m shopping for an organic option, Dr. Bronner’s is one of my first stops. His hand sanitizer ($4) is USDA Certified Organic and contains just four ingredients: alcohol, water, glycerin, and lavender oil. That’s it. People differ on how much they love (or don’t love) Dr. Bronner. I’m on the fence about a few products, but overall, I like Dr. Bronner’s. I have not tried the Organic Hand Sanitizer, though. If you’ve tried it, what are your thoughts? Again, this one is also alcohol-based, so brace yourself when using around cuts and scrapes.
Homemade Germ-Killing Power
Don’t toss out all your antibacterial stuff yet. Rinse it out and save the bottles to make your own custom blends! Before researching this article, I hadn’t really considered making my own hand sanitizer. It sounds dead easy. I’m sharing two recipes with you: one alcohol-based and one without alcohol. To either of these, you can add some fun stuff like glitter or additional essential oils to design your own sanitizer. How about some wipes? I haven’t tried this myself, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use these same recipes (maybe less aloe vera gel?) and soak reusable cloths (or paper towels) in the solution to make your own reusable wipes. Thoughts?
[Since writing this segment, I tried out the alcohol-based recipe. Super easy! I only had peppermint oil on hand, and I would recommend a different oil to cover up the alcohol smell. Lavender would be lovely.]
The purpose of antibacterial products is to kill bacteria before they get into your system. Not a bad idea, but a good wash with soap and water will provide the same defense without exposing your system to other questionable chemicals or creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs in the process. Opt for the safer choice and teach good hand washing skills to your kids (we’re still working on that)!
However, bacteria (and viruses) will get through your defenses, guaranteed. Creating a healthy and strong immune system is even more important to help fight off infections and heal the body. We could talk about immune-building habits after we wrap up the body products segment, any interest?
Next week…body soaps and shower gels! (No really, I promise!) Any specific questions?