I have always despised washing my hands. At the age of seven my parents required that I open the door after using the toilet in order to guarantee that I physically put my hands in the sink under running water. The sanitary surveillance began after the discovery of my fake-out trick: turning on the tap and wiggling the towel hanger to replicate the sounds of hand washing. To this day I am unable to rationally explain my inner resistance to hand hygiene. However, after learning about the health concerns related to antibacterial soap, I like to think that my refusal to get sudsy was due all along to an instinctive avoidance of antibacterials.
In 2014, the FDA announced that the costs of using antibacterial soaps likely outweigh the benefits due to the chemical triclosan According to studies performed at North Carolina State University, the chemical is shown to potentially create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, disrupt endocrine regulation, and increase children’s chances of developing allergies due to the lack of proper immune system functioning from reduced exposure to bacteria. Once flushed down the drain, triclosan bypasses sewage treatment and has been detected in bodies of water, entering our drinking water and inhibiting algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis. If all that was not enough, recent studies have shown that once triclosan penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream (yes, it does that), the chemical inhibits normal muscle functioning AND can cause damage to the heart.
Don’t get me wrong, in today’s world of massive globalization and international travel, the threat of virus spread is enough to call for human car washes. No one wants to relive the Black Plague. However, it seems as though the modern world has an obsession with cleanliness to the point of sterilizing ourselves from the bacteria that is as natural to the planet Earth as dirt, which a majority of Americans stay as far away from as possible. As fermentation guru and pro-bacteria food activist Sandor Katz believes, “Americans are killing themselves with cleanliness”.
The battle against bacteria may in fact be a battle against our true selves. Scientific discoveries into the nature of the human biome have led to a massive evolution of our understanding of who we truly are as humans. Our bodies are made up of 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, meaning that we are more bacteria than human. The microbiome on each human is estimated to weigh 5 pounds! By constantly scrubbing away bacteria from our skin, we are in fact killing the beneficial bacteria necessary to maintain healthy immune systems that keep us stayin’ alive.
To my dismay, the FDA does still recommends that we wash our hands with soap — albeit the antibacterial-free kind — and water. I guess I’ll have to choose my battles.