“Antibacterial” has become a trusted catchword in recent years, synonymous with cleanliness and immaculate hygiene—but studies are showing that these products are doing more harm than good. Triclosan, the key ingredient in antibacterial dish detergents, gel hand sanitizers, toothpastes, and hand soaps, has been proven to cause liver cancer in mice, effectively transforming this vital, blood-cleansing organ into a lump of scar tissue. Tests on human subjects have shown that it’s present in the urine of 75 percent of people involved in the study, and in the breast milk of 97 percent of the lactating female subjects… so what does that mean for our long-term health?
Usually, when health scares pop up about a certain chemical, people’s reactions depend on whether they will be affected personally. Studies that prove that Triclosan causes male genital shrinkage may cause half of the population to shrug and “meh”, since they don’t have the equipment in question. Similarly, findings about deformities in amphibians (like three-legged frogs) may elicit the “I’m not a frog, so who cares?” response. Each and every one of us has a liver, however, and the thought that antibacterial cleaning products are turning these organs into mush should be enough to persuade everyone to ditch these cleansers immediately.
Mice that have been exposed to Triclosan haven’t just been stricken with liver cancer, but have developed larger and more abundant liver tumours after exposure to other chemicals, and that same reaction is inevitable in us. The key thing to remember here is that damage is cumulative: our livers cleanse toxins from our bodies, so when healthy liver tissue is replaced with masses of useless scar tissue, toxins from all the other nasty things we’re exposed to every day will accumulate in the few bits of healthy liver left.
Consumers inform production, and the only way to get this frightening chemical out of our lives for good is to stop buying it. Writing or calling the companies that use it in their products may also encourage them to stop using it, but however the means, Triclosan is a chemical that needs to go away now. The question is: do we care enough about our health to take action against a chemical that is causing irreparable damage to everyone exposed to it? Or will ambivalence be the order of the day?
Images via Shutterstock