Antibacterial Soaps Make Kids Too Clean, Cause Allergies


Parents tell their kids to wash with antibacterial soap, but could it be making them too clean and causing allergies? A new University of Michigan School of Public Health study indicates that the triclosan in antibacterial soaps and some other products may have a negative impact on the immune system in young people.

Triclosan in antibacterial soap affects immune system

Triclosan is a chemical that can be found in a variety of products, including antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, acne products, deodorant, shaving gel, and “natural” cosmetics. A previous study from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University is just one of numerous reports that have named triclosan as unsafe for both people and the environment.

Triclosan belongs to a class of toxins called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), which may harm human health by mimicking hormones. The toxin is believed to damage reproductive organs, sperm quality, and the production of sex and thyroid hormones.

In the new study from Michigan, investigators evaluated data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and compared triclosan levels with cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibody levels and diagnoses of hay fever and allergies in adults and children older than six years. Experts use allergy and hay fever and CMV antibody levels as indicators of changes to the immune system.


The investigators found that individuals 18 years and younger who had higher levels of triclosan were more likely to have allergies and hay fever. According to Allison Aiello, associate professor at Michigan and principal investigator on the study, their findings about triclosan “may support the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to microorganisms that are beneficial for the development of the immune system.”

In other words, Aiello notes that “it is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good.” Results of this study support a growing concern among experts and consumer advocates that triclosan and other EDCs can harm humans at lower levels than previously believed.

In July 2010, the National Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, sued the Food and Drug Administration because it claimed the agency failed to finalize a document that would regulate toxins present in antibacterial soaps and other products. Triclosan and triclocarbon, a similar compound, are two toxins the Council noted are found in 76 percent of 395 liquid soaps.

When asking our kids to wash their hands, antibacterial soap may not be the product to use. Not only could the triclosan in these soaps be causing hay fever and allergies, it may also be behind other changes in the immune system.

Environmental Health Perspectives
National Resources Defense Council