We’ve all been there – either entering/leaving a store, exiting a bathroom, or grabbing for the trendy little scented bottles of anti-bacterial gel or foam to frantically scrub away and disinfect every living organism from our hands. Our obsession with killing germs seemed to peak about 15-20 years ago when a flood of anti-bacterial products hit the shelves of every store known to man. With washing hands suddenly gone passé, marketing campaigns flooded our lives of living in fear of germs. What ever happened to good old washing your hands with soap and hot water? That didn’t work? Instead, we were coerced to slather our hands in anti-bacterial gel (no washing needed! I’m sure that scrubbed off all the germs….) and then hope we didn’t pass out from the noxious gases of these alienistic concoctions. What scared me even more was how quickly these anti-bacterial hand gels invaded schools and classrooms. These products were promoted as helping to prevent the spread of viruses and sicknesses by killing germs on the spot….and killing all of the healthy bacteria off of kids’ hands (I recall my pediatrician when I was a child encouraging us to play in the dirt and actually expose ourselves to germs to help build our immunity…and it worked). As a teacher who checked things out in-depth, I became concerned with the level of chemicals that laced all of this hand gel that my students – CHILDREN – were dumping on their hands ALL DAY. Remember my whole lecture months back about how our skin is our largest organ and anything that touches it enters our bloodstream within 60 seconds? Well, that includes these chemical baths of “hand sanitizers” – not to mention triclosan, the main ingredient in hand sanitizing gels and sprays, is a registered PESTICIDE with the FDA. Hmmm…. Now would you allow your child to go rub his/her hands with bug killer found in your garage? Then why is it in millions of products – ranging from toothpaste, to hand gels, to lotions……and even toys?!?! It’s time we become aware of (and hopefully take a cautionary stand against) these “anti-bacterial” products that are touting to promote health and well-being…when in reality, they are doing the opposite.
Unfortunately, triclosan cannot be completely removed during the wastewater treatment process. So when treated wastewater is released back into the environment, there’s triclosan still in it and sunlight converts some of the triclosan (and related compounds) into dioxins. Recent studies conducted at Virginia Tech have found that triclosan can react with chlorine in the tap water (which as I wrote about in a previous article several months ago….our tap water is FULL of chlorine, amongst other nasty chemicals). Guess what you get when triclosan and chlorine unite? (it’s not something you would want anywhere near you.) CHLOROFORM. Yea….the stuff that you would see being used in movies when bad guys would slap a cloth over someone’s face laced with this chemical to knock them out and kill them! This is a toxic chemical that can give you cancer.
According to European researchers, many European countries do not even regulate triclosan at all, which means there is no way to know just how much of the chemical is accumulating in and tainting waterways throughout the continent; this mirrors the same concern here in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still considers triclosan to be safe, but is currently in the process of evaluating emerging science on the chemical that increasingly questions its safety. According to a more recent FDA announcement, triclosan is linked to causing hormone disruption in animals, which may also be problematic in humans.
- THYME – One such essential oil is that of the thyme plant. You may know this herb as a delicious way to season foods. However, thyme has recently been proven to be an even more potent antibacterial agent than many chemicals commonly used in soaps and hand cleansers. (Many of the natural anti-bacterial household cleaning sprays use thyme as the anti-bac agent; it has a distinctive smell).
- LAVENDER – Another essential oil that has strong antibacterial properties is lavender. Lavender is mostly known as the “relaxing” oil and is often used to calm the nerves. It is often overlooked as an antibacterial agent. However, it is indeed excellent for topical use on the skin due its rare dual ability to soothe and calm the skin while also killing bacteria.
- ROSEMARY AND PEPPERMINT – Essential oils of rosemary and peppermint are also good antibacterial agents. Peppermint smells wonderful, but may be a bit harsh for use on human skin in large quantities (I personally use peppermint oil all the time, have sensitive skin, and never had an issue with it being too harsh). However it would be a good addition to a household cleaner.
- CITRUS OILS – Many of the citrus essential oils are excellent at killing bacteria; all possess antibacterial properties and sometimes even anti-fungal or antiviral properties..
- HOT WATER: Hot water is an often forgotten way to kill bacteria. It is the most simple, readily available way to help rid surfaces of bacteria and other surface contaminants. Of course, it can be used in conjunction with any of the other aforementioned ingredients to make an inexpensive, yet potent natural antibacterial cleaner.