Its tough to go anywhere without seeing hand sanitzer - at the doctors office, at the cash register, in the restroom, by the shopping carts, you might have a bottle in your bag or at your desk. The idea of needing this product is so pervasive, I have seen it on tables at restaurants.
Our culture has fully embraced the idea that "sterile" is good, it's healthy because there are no germs.
But is it possible to be too clean?
Turns out you are actually a world on which 100,000,000,000,000 (that's 100 trillion!) bacteria reside. We are outnumbered ten to one by non-human organisms in our own body's ecosystem, which is home to over 400 known diverse bacterial species.
The thought may make your skin crawl, but we live in symbiosis with these little guys - we literally could not survive without them. Those who reside in the gut promote normal gastrointestinal function, provide protection from infection, regulate metabolism, and comprise over 75% of the immune system.
Why you Should Skip the Sanitizers
The primary role of the skin is to serve as a physical barrier, protecting our bodies from potential assault by foreign organisms or toxic substances. Our microbiome covering the skin works in conjunction with the physical barrier, as our first line of defense in the immune system. Damage by antibacterial products eradicates this protective process.
When a bacterial population is placed under a stressor—such as an antibacterial chemical—a small sub-population armed with special defense mechanisms can develop. Over time, as bacteria develop a tolerance for these compounds there is potential for also developing a tolerance for certain antibiotics.
Both triclosan and its close chemical relative triclocarban (both widely used antibacterials), are present in 60 percent of America's streams and rivers, says environmental scientist Rolf Halden, co-founder of the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Both chemicals are efficiently removed from wastewater in treatment plants but end up getting sequestered in the municipal sludge, which is used as fertilizer for crops, thereby opening a potential pathway for contamination of the food we eat, Halden explains. "We have to realize that the concentrations in agricultural soil are very high," and this, "along with the presence of pathogens from sewage, could be a recipe for breeding antimicrobial resistance" in the environment.
It Doesn't Work
A 2007 article published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease reviewed 27 studies that compared triclosan-containing products to regular soap and found that people were no less likely to come down with diarrhea, coughs, fevers or skin infections than if they used antibacterials.
Looking specifically at the bacterial load on hands before and after washing, most studies have found no difference between the two kinds of soap and their ability to rid bacteria from our hands.
The Best Ways to Keep Clean
* Dry hands with a clean towel to help brush off any germs that did not get washed down the drain.
* Wash surfaces that come in contact with food with a detergent and water.
* Wash children’s hands and toys regularly to prevent infection.
* If washing with soap and water is not possible, use alcohol-based sanitizers.