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The Potential Pitfalls of Overusing Antibacterial Soap

By Wesley Fenlon

Antibiotic agent Triclosan is everywhere these days, which may not be a good thing.

There are places we expect--and need--antibacterial protection. Laboratories. Hospitals. Pizza cutters? One of these things is not like the others, and as an interesting post on Mind the Science Gap reveals, the antibacterial agent Triclosan is working its way into more and more environments these days. Including, yes, pizza cutters. Why? Germ phobia, clever marketing, or genuine, worthwhile protection? All three are playing a part. And while Triclosan has its place in hospitals and other places where antibiotics are hugely important, Mind the Science's blog points out that Triclosan's widespread use in consumer products could actually be damaging to our health.

The blog charts Triclosan's spread from hospitals to consumer products beginning with deodorant; today its use has expanded to antibacterial soaps, pizza wheels, toothpastes, makeup, steak knives, ice cream scoops, socks, and kids' toys. Mind the Science Gap points out a couple reasons Triclosan's ubiquity is a bad thing. For one, we're not entirely sure heavy exposure is so healthy for us.

Photo Credit: Flickr user hygienematters via Creative Commons

Mind the Science Gap cites a couple studies that show Triclosan worsening issues like asthma and allergies, affecting cardiac muscles, and being detectable in blood, urine, and breast milk. These are studies based around high exposure to Triclosan and aren't necessarily indicative of real-life circumstances. Still, they're a bit concerning.

And there's a bigger problem with overuse of Triclosan: bacteria developing resistances to antibiotics. "No matter how well you wash your hands, you’re never going to clean off all of the bacteria, and there will always be some that survive the deluge of soap, Triclosan, and water," writes the blog. "Often, these bugs survive because they have mutations in their DNA that change some aspect of their biology that prevents the Triclosan from doing what it’s supposed to do. Sometimes, bacteria can exchange these mutated genes...By trading these plasmids like baseball cards, different species of bacteria can pick up all kinds of resistance genes, making infections harder to treat and increasing the number of hospital-borne infections. Of particular concern is that one of the most popular mutations for Triclosan resistance also confers resistance to Isoniazid – an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis."

The last thing we want is our antibiotics making bacteria tougher to kill, but it's a possibility. We understand why Triclosan's a necessary (and even life-saving) antibiotic when used in hospitals, but maybe we don't need the stuff in our socks and pizza cutters just yet.

(h/t boingboing)