Thursday, March 5, 2009

Germ warfare

Ever wondered what goes into those antibacterial handwashes?

Those wise people at the Ecologist recently revealed the truth about how harmful they can be.

Their message is: should you wash your hands? Yes. Should you use an antibacterial handwash? No.

Some soaps and handwashes are not just harmful to our skin, but they also contain antibacterial chemicals like Triclosan, benzalkonium chloride or chlorohexidine.

These work in the same way as antibiotics and can contribute to bacterial resistance at home and in the wider environment.

Triclosan, in particular, is bad news because it breaks down into a carcinogenic dioxin compound in our rivers and streams.

When we wash our hands with soap and water, it doesn’t kill ‘germs’ – instead it creates a slippery surface so they ‘slide off’.

However, while antibacterial handwashes do kill bacteria and viruses, within 90 minutes there is generally no difference in the number of bacteria and viruses on your hands.

Many handwashes contain ‘parfum’, made up of dozens of chemicals, which have been linked to asthma, plus the fragrance ingredients citronellol, linalool and limonene – which produce a high rate of allergic reactions.

Not all handwashes contain the dreaded Triclosan, but alternatives like methyldibromo glutaronitrile can cause skin rashes.

Then there’s preservatives such as tetrasodium EDTA, a chemical that binds with heavy metals in lakes and streams.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate, a common ingredient, is a detergent that can cause skin dryness and eye irritation.

If all this sounds offputting, there is an alternative. I’ve used Ecosopia handwash in my home for ages, and both my kids have suffered from dry skin and eczema in the past.

With Ecosopia, there’s never been a problem.

And there’s a reassuringly short list of natural ingredients, including organic oils and plant extracts (plus my daughter’s happy because they are not tested on animals and contain no animal ingredients).

If you’re worried about bacteria, the advice is to use normal soap and wash your hands (or your kids’ hands) ‘properly’ - covering the hands with soap and rubbing them vigorously together for 15 seconds before rinsing.

Job done.


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1 comment:

GreenChick said...

I have eczema and I'm always looking for new soaps that I can use. Thanks for the info.