Is Your Hand Sanitizer Hijacking Your Fertility?
There's rising concern about a connection between fertility problems and an all-too-common chemical in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers
If you’ve got a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse and car and have a house full of antibacterial soap, listen up, germophobe! Your quest to stay germ-free may be noble, but the products you’re using might be putting a bug in your plans to have a baby.
After 40 years of years of silence on the subject, the US Food and Drug Administration is finally set to decide this year whether triclosan—the active ingredient in many brands of hand-sanitizers, some gingivitis-fighting toothpastes, and an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the US—is harmful to human fertility.
Renewed concern about the chemical was triggered by recent studies which showed that triclosan exposure increased risk for reproductive hormone problems in animals. In one study, for example, triclosan decreased levels of testosterone and sperm production in male rats; in female rats, altered levels of estrogen were detected.
Should you be concerned? According to the FDA, at this time, “triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, but several scientific studies have come out … that merit further review. However, data showing effects in animals don’t always predict effects in humans.”
Whatever the FDA report turns up on the chemical, some companies aren’t taking any chances. As the Huffington Post reports, Johnson & Johnson has already pledged to remove triclosan from all of its adult products by the end of 2015. The company also says that none of its baby products currently contain the ingredient. To find out if your antibacterial products contain triclosan, carefully check the ingredients list.
In light of all this, many people are asking whether antibacterial products are even necessary. This question may be a little easier to answer, thanks to data compiled by the University of Michigan and other universities that show antibacterial soaps and related products made with triclosan are no more effective at preventing illness or reducing bacteria on the hands than good ol’ soap and water.
Even the FDA and US Centers for Disease Control agree—the simplest way to keep germs and bacteria at bay is to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds with regular soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using hand-sanitizer made with alcohol or ethanol instead of chemicals like triclosan.
In Florida, Becky Ames, who works as a home health aide, and is currently trying to conceive her first child, says she is taking a second look at her products—and not taking anymore shortcuts with hand washing.
“In a typical day at work, I may need to wash my hands at least 20 to 30 times. I sometimes use heavy duty hand sanitizer when I’m in the middle of something, but now I’m rethinking this,” Ames explains. “At most, I save only a minute by not going to the sink to wash my hands. Since I’m trying to have a baby and want to be the healthiest I can be, the extra time is worth it.”
How can you make sure you’re reaching the 20-second mark when you wash your hands? Easy: lather up and scrub while singing or humming “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice, and then rinse.
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