Warning: Some anti-bacterial soaps are encouraging superbugs

Toddler washing hands

Four manufacturers are set to remove a number of ingredients already banned in the US from Australian anti-bacterial soaps as experts say the products are doing much more harm than good.

Dangerous and legal

Woolworths, Aldi, Colgate-Palmolive and Dettol-makers, Reckitt Benckiser are the manufacturers set to ditch the potentially dangerous ingredients. They’re apparently set to phase them out over the next 12 months.

Triclosan and triclocarban are the chemicals in question and you’ll currently find them in a number of anti-bacterial products on your local supermarket or chemist shelf. They’re banned in the States but continue to be legal here, at present.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled out the use of triclosan and triclocarban when scientists flagged a number of dangers, including the promotion of antibiotic resistance, the disruption of  hormones and the worry that they could cause cancer in mice.

These chemicals appear on a whopping list of 19 dangerous anti-bacterial ingredients banned by the FDA, confirming that the use of anti-bacterial products needs a serious shake-up, for all our sakes.

Creating superbugs

An ABC report says there is no doubt that the use of anti-bacterial soaps has created superbugs that fail to respond to antibiotic treatment, and that that anti-bacterials and antibiotics have much in common.

“An antibiotic, a drug that you take for infection is the same type of entity that’s in an antibacterial soap. They’re just different types of chemicals. But they’re all called antibacterials,” University of Sydney microbiologist Professor Liz Harry told the ABC.

Bacteria are able to adapt and share any resistance they’ve acquired with neighbouring bugs, thus creating the perfect superbug storm.

“Bacterial DNA can encode resistance. On these same pieces of DNA are resistance to things like penicillin and your basic antibiotics … So that whole piece of DNA goes from one bacteria to millions of others on the bathroom floor. Then they’re all resistant, not just to the antibacterial in your wash, but also an antibiotic. That’s where you have a problem,” Dr Harry said.

Warm, soapy water

Some hospitals have already moved away from anti-bacterials containing triclosan and triclocarban, due to bacterial resistance and are urging the public to follow suit.

“I think warm, soapy water and drying your hands is quite adequate.”

“There will come a time when antibiotics won’t work. They’re already not working for some diseases. And we don’t have anything else in the pipeline,” Dr Harry warned.

Australia’s own Therapeutic Goods Administration are currently reviewing the list of FDA-banned chemicals. Parents would do well to review them too.

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