Hand sanitizer dispensers seem commonplace everywhere we go. When did we come to rely so heavily on antibacterial gels?
The sanitizer story has an auspicious start. In the 1960s, hand sanitizer was used as a last resort for health care workers; if there was no soap and water to wash with, a little squirt of sanitizing liquid rubbed over the hands was an FDA approved plan b cleansing method.
Now, hand sanitizers are dispensed at every supermarket, school, and workplace around. What happened to influence the collective mindset, and bring us to this enormous shift in behavior?
The Rise of Triclosan
In 1969, the FDA approved Triclosan, an antibacterial agent, for use in personal care products. Triclosan is a strong antibacterial that can have serious negative effects on people, animals, and the environment, disrupting hormone cycles, causing cancer in some cases, and damaging the endocrine system. But all we understood was that this product was FDA approved, and it kept the “bad germs” at bay.
Soon, antibacterial gels and sprays became commonplace; you can impulse purchase pocket-sized bottles at a multitude of stores and gas stations. Some companies even target young audiences by creating sweet smelling formulas and cute packaging, as if it were lip gloss. Purell became such a big brand name that it became a verb - like Google!
What was intended for last resort hospital use was sold in little bottles and tossed in every purse and backpack and being touted as a must-have accessory. No one questioned why a product designed for last resort use in a clinical setting was becoming a consumer staple.
The Winds are Changing
Major companies manufacturing these kinds of products have maintained that they’re great to use. Meanwhile, the scientific community has begun to worry about:
Superbugs - the use of antibacterials is killing off all but the strongest microbes, which breed and grow stronger
Antibiotic resistance - use antibiotics when you don’t need them, and they might not work when you do
Damage to the microbiome - some bacteria are good for you, but antibacterials don’t differentiate between bacteria that help the body and pathogenic bacteria
Despite continued insistence that antibacterial products are essential to a healthy hygiene routine, views are beginning to change. People are learning more and understanding that not all bacteria is bad. We’ve mentioned that the probiotics market is on the rise, and fermented foods and drinks are becoming more and more popular.
A Brighter Bacterial Future
Changes have been a long time coming. In 1978, the FDA proposed regulations that would remove triclosan from topical antibacterial products, but there was no follow-through. In 2010, the NRDC* filed a lawsuit, and things slowly began to move forward again.
(*The NRDC, or National Resources Defense Council, is a major organization for environmental advocacy. They move on big projects - we're talking Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act big.)
On September 2, 2016, the FDA banned the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and 17 other chemicals in hand and body washes. Needless to say, this is a BIG deal. Companies will have a year to either remove these chemicals from their products or take the products off the market. Note, however, that this rule doesn’t apply to hand sanitizers or clinical washes. Maybe that is the next step ;)
To distances ourselves from over-cleaning and over-sterilizing requires a massive mentality shift, but the fact that Mother Dirt exists is proof that we’re already well on our way! We recognize it is a constant challenge to review long-held beliefs and reevaluate our lifestyles, and we’re proud of our Mist-ers, who challenge themselves to think about their health and their world differently - with every spritz. Happy Misting :)