Good old soap and water gets your hands healthfully clean — but germaphobes continue to spend good money to buy antibacterial soaps, thanks to the fear-mongering marketing ploys of companies that make products with the antibacterial chemicals triclosan and triclocarban. Now, environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is appealing to our common sense — and encouraging us to get anti antibacterials.

Why? Beyond simply being a money-waster, since antibacterial products won’t keep you any healthier than regular soap and water, these chemical products could harm your health — and the environment too. That’s why NRDC is calling on the FDA to regulate antimicrobials in a new health report dubbed Not Effective and Not Safe. The full effects of triclosan and triclocarban are still under study, but Dr. Sarah Janssen, NRDC staff scientist, explains some of the risks in an interview on NRDC’s Simple Steps blog:

Both of these chemicals are hormone-disrupting chemicals, but they interfere with different hormone systems and though their toxicity is not fully understood, what we do know about these chemicals is deeply concerning. Triclosan interferes with thyroid hormone. We know that other thyroid-disrupting chemicals have been shown to alter development of the brain and nervous system causing problems with learning or behavior later in life, and we are concerned that triclosan could have similar effects.

Triclocarban is a unique type of hormone-disrupting chemical which has not been found to have any hormone-disrupting properties on its own but has been shown to enhance the activity of other hormones, such as the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. Boosting your sex hormones isn’t necessarily a good thing! For someone with a hormonally dependent cancer, that could mean more hormonal stimulation of cancer cell growth.

Considering that these chemicals are found in up to 75 percent of liquid soaps — and that three of four Americans have residues of triclosan in their bodies — the potential risks are extremely troubling. On the upside, unlike many chemicals that don’t show up on product ingredient lists because they’re considered byproducts of manufacturing, triclosan usually shows up clearly on ingredient lists and is thus easy to spot — and avoid.

Want to stay clean sans chemicals? Here is NRDC Senior Scientist Gina Solomon’s advice for eco-germaphobes:

  • Be a fanatic about regular handwashing, but use normal soap and water.
  • If you don’t have access to running water, use a skin sanitizer.
  • Read the ingredients on your products, and get rid of anything containing triclosan or triclocarban. These chemicals are mostly in soap, but can also be in acne creams, cosmetics and even some toothpastes!
  • If you want to look up products that contain these chemicals, check out the Household Products Database.
Curious how triclosan got into so many household products — and turned regular people into a germ-fearing populace? Read the chapter on triclosan in Slow Death By Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, a newish book that looks at the histories and potential futures of the seemingly innocuous but secretly dangerous items in our daily lives.

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Get anti antibacterials, urges NRDC
U.S. consumers spend nearly $1 billion a year on antibacterial products that aren't necessary -- and could be dangerous, according to the NRDC.