Friday, August 22, 2008


Pet peeve number sixty two? Anti-bacterial. I've got friends who use this stuff, especially the hand sanitizers. Some have small children and I think at times if they could they'd just start dipping them full body into the stuff! I've always thought it was nasty, nasty stuff. You want me to wha? Take this squishy, goopy junk and smear it all over my hands until it magically kills the mean stuff, and then it disappears and my hands are all happy again? Seriously? I mean, I get it, but at the same time always thought "Ok, this stuff can't just GO away, so isn't it still on your hands?" Blah!

And I think I might have been right. (And before I go any further here, I realize method made a hand sanitizer for a while, and I was always sort of on the fence about that one. I'm sure it was all natural and such, but still... I don't know. I'll have to look into that.)

Check out a couple articles here:

"War on Bacteria is Wrongheaded
by Christopher Wanjek for Live Science

Pity the poor bacterium, the Rodney Dangerfield of the unicellular world. It eats our trash, makes soil fertile, turns the food we swallow into useful vitamins, and yet it gets no respect. Most people, when you get right down to it, are just plain bacteria bigots. They want to run all 2,000-plus species of bacteria out of town just because of a few ornery germs that can harm us.

And now, it seems, our pursuit of a bacteria-free world is making us sick. Got antibacterial soap? It could be doing you more harm than good.

A study published this month in Chest (trust me, it's a medical journal) finds that antibiotic exposure during infancy is associated with asthma. This follows a string of studies from the past few years, such as those from the Immune Tolerance Network, revealing that early exposure to harmful bacteria builds a healthy immune system. Kids exposed to endotoxin-releasing bacteria, for example, are less likely to be allergic to dogs and cats.

These docs have a sense of humor, too. They call this the Pigpen Effect, after the Peanut's character with his protective cloud of dirt. It's a dirty little secret the antibacterial soap people don't want you to know about.

The rising incidence of asthma and allergies in the developed (cleaner) world, doctors say, could be tied to the relatively sterile environments our children live in compared to a generation ago. Children not exposed to harmful bacteria, or conversely, given antibiotics to kill bacteria, do not receive the germ workout required to make antibodies. More specifically, they do not develop T-helper cells, which fight foreign cellular invaders and minimize allergies.

Unfortunately the American consumer is at war with all bacteria. According to the Soap and Detergent Association (too bad its acronym couldn't spell SUD), more than three-quarters of liquid soap and more than a quarter of bar soaps on supermarket shelves contain triclosan, an antibiotic that kills most bacteria, both good and bad.

Ridding ourselves of bacteria is a hopeless endeavor. Bacteria outnumber human cells in your body 10 to 1. This is a good thing. The entire digestive tract is lined with bacteria, from top to, uh, bottom. These bacteria work with the body's own chemicals in breaking down food, converting it to useful vitamins and minerals, and making sure the intestinal walls can absorb the nutrients for the bloodstream to circulate. Without these bacteria, we could not digest food. Babies, born relatively bacteria-free, are extremely limited in what they can eat.

Human skin contains many species of harmless bacteria. Their presence prevents harmful bacteria, what we commonly call germs, from gaining a foothold on your skin. Numerous studies show that antibacterial soap is no more effective than ordinary soap in cleaning your hands. Either kind lifts off germ-laden dirt. But antibacterial soap kills helpful bacteria on the skin, freeing up valuable real estate so that harmful bacteria can move in later.

The marketing of antibacterial products during flu and cold season is a scam, because colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Most bacterial infections in the United States are food-borne: salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. We cannot wash food in triclosan. Apparently we tolerate feces in our food supply yet reach for an antibacterial wipe to clean some jelly off the counter. It's enough to make you sick."


Anti-bacterial - Good or Bad?

Don't let your zeal for avoiding germs guide you to questionable skincare practices. Plain old soap and water has gotten a bad rap lately, but surprisingly, it is still the best, most effective step against germs and bacteria.

...Germs are lurking everywhere: door handles, countertops and most especially, hands. How to combat these snarky germs? Is it really necessary to lather up every time someone sneezes, or is a fruity-scented anti-bacterial hand sanitizer the answer?

Like many things, the fantastical claims of gel-based, anti-bacterial hand sanitizers seem too good to be true: namely, killing 99.9% of harmful germs and bacteria without water, anytime, anywhere. Especially for squirmy children who hate to lather up, hand sanitizers seem like a skincare dream. Available in fun scents and colors, these quick acting alternatives to cleanser are readily available. Yet, are they as fantastic as all that? A debate has been growing over the past few years, and it turns out that consumers may not be getting all the information when it comes to anti-bacterial products.

On the most basic level, overuse of hand sanitizers is dangerous for the simple reason that many people are using these products to replace regular hand washing. However, it's uncertain whether merely using a hand sanitizing gel is enough. Studies have shown that the only truly effective method of sanitizing hands is to wash for ten seconds using soap and warm water. Those who consistently replace hand washing with sanitizers may end up with perpetually unclean hands, spreading germs to others. For this reason, the FDA recommends that people use hand sanitizers only when soap and water is not available, and not as a replacement for hand-washing.

What exactly happens when you use a hand sanitizer? Simply put, the products strips away the outmost layer of oil on the skin's surface, removing bacteria from the hand's surface, and slowing down re-growth of new bacteria, as well. And just as the product claims, most bacteria are killed. However, complete sterilization of all bacteria is not an answer to germs, either. The body plays hosts to numerous forms of bacteria, both good and bad. And this bacteria is responsible for a host of important functions, such as metabolizing food and maintaining the pH of the mouth. Good bacteria are also found in nature, where they help to break down solid waste and trash, as well as enrich and fertilize the soil. Studies from the Immune Tolerance Network also reveal that in order to build a healthy immune system, kids must be exposed to all forms of bacteria in their early years. Kids who live in overly sterile environments are more likely to end up with allergies and other immune system complications.

Unfortunately, avoiding anti-bacs is not as easy as it may seem. Anti-bacterial products are not limited to hand sanitizers and these powerful substances are popping up all over: cutting boards, children's toys, sandals, toothbrushes, makeup, and computer accessories are all increasingly being made with anti-bacterial agents. The Soap and Detergent Association reports that about three-quarters of liquid soaps, as well as many other products, contain a chemical called triclosan, an anti-bacterial agent. And one of the biggest problems with this type of cleanser is that it kills all bacteria, both good and bad.

In an article on, the American Medical Association states, "It may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products." Not only is triclosan ineffective at preventing the common cold or flu in a healthy household (those are caused by viruses, not bacteria); this chemical may also be dangerous. According to, anti-bacterial exposure has been associated with asthma in infants and researchers have also found a link between triclosan and dioxins, or cancer-causing chemicals. It is suspected that these dioxins form when triclosan is exposed to sunlight or chlorine, which is a concern due to the typically high amount of chlorine found in tap water.

The most serious concern about over-using anti-bacterial products is that germs are smart, and over time, will build up a resistance to these substances, resulting in "super-bacteria". Because triclosan kills bacteria in a way similar to antibiotics, researchers worry that bacteria will also become resistant to antibiotics, leading to even further health problems down the road. So before you reach for that bottle of fancy-scented hand sanitizer, take an extra five minutes to actually wash your hands instead. Turns out that plain old soap and water will effectively clean and sanitize the hands, with no safety concerns."

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