10/07/2011 02:19 pm ET | Updated Dec 07, 2011

Germs Don't Have to Be the Enemy

Remember what your mom always told you? Scrub your hands before dinner, right? She certainly didn't say, "Make sure you slather on plenty of antibacterial gel." Well, she had it right, because washing with plain soap and water is just as effective as using antibacterial soaps and sanitizers.

I know, I know. It's almost impossible to turn around without bumping into anti-bacterial hand soaps, hand sanitizer gels, wipes, deodorants and toothpastes these days. The problem is that the most common ingredient in these products is Triclosan. Triclosan is an antimicrobial pesticide which has been shown to cause hormone disruption, allergies, asthma and eczema. If this weren't troubling enough, it breaks down rapidly in warm chlorinated water -- that's right, precisely what you use when washing your hands -- to form toxic chemicals, including chloroform. Just this year, the Physicians for Social Responsibility called on the EPA to ban Triclosan, stating that there are safer alternatives that are equally effective.

We're exposed to bacteria and viruses constantly -- in fact, trillions of them live in our bodies. Our immune system is designed to cope with these germs, to dispose of them. Research suggests that Triclosan creates resistance in bacteria. When we overuse antibacterial soap, the germs get smart and become resistant to the chemicals we use against them. Isn't that ironic? Here we are, trying to prevent the spread of disease by killing bacteria, and we're actually making it worse!

Keep in mind that understanding when to wash your hands is the most important key to reducing the spread of germs. My children know that the first thing they do when they walk in the house is wash their hands. It's the best way of keeping whatever they've touched or handled in the outside world on the other side of that door.

If you're like me, you'll be keeping germs at bay the old-fashioned way. Join me in telling the EPA we're tired of finding Triclosan in our household products by supporting the Citizens Petition for a Ban on Triclosan.

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