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Antibacterial Soap May Be Unhealthy

Antibacterial soap may not have the health benefits you thought: A new study shows that washing with the soap exposes hospital workers to a high level of the potentially unsafe levels of the chemical triclosan.

A synthetic antibacterial substance, triclosan is an ingredient in literally thousands of consumer products including soaps, acne creams and some toothpaste. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now reviewing its safety based on increasing evidence that, among other health issues, it can interfere with hormones and potentially cause problems in fetuses and newborns.

In the current study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, looked at urine samples from two groups of 38 doctors and nurses at two different hospitals. The first hospital used antibacterial soap with 0.3 percent triclosan, while the second used plain soap and water.

Workers at Hospital 1 had significantly higher levels of triclosan in their urine than workers at Hospital 2.

Additionally, the scientists asked the participants if they used a particular toothpaste containing triclosan. Those who did had higher triclosan levels than those who didn’t, but using the antibacterial soap accounted for higher levels in urine than did brushing with the toothpaste.

“Antimicrobial soaps can carry unknown risks, and triclosan is of particular concern,” said co-investigator Paul Blanc, MD, a professor of medicine at UCSF. “Our study shows that people absorb this chemical at work and at home, depending on the products that they use.”

“If non-triclosan-containing soaps are available, use the alternative. This is based on the precautionary principle – that is, if you don’t know for certain that something is unsafe, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”
But, he added, “it should not be up to the individual to inspect every product for triclosan. Instead, it’s the duty of the FDA to carry out a review of this chemical and, if indicated, get it off the market.”

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