You Can Be Too Clean


Chemical cleaners remind me of elementary school. Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth alongside Ms. Pac Man, the harsh smell of bleach and whatever that green gravel they sprinkled around could knock this third-grader onto her dungarees. Now it turns out, that cleaner might be responsible for my years as an allergy-ridden teen. And not for the reason you might think, (the smell, the chemicals, and the vomit it inevitably tried to mask…). It’s because a new study out of the University of Michigan shows that some soaps and cleaners are making children more prone to allergies as teenagers.

We’ve already reported on the dangers of antibacterial soap. These can leave a residue on your skin with a few surviving bacteria – which promptly multiply into stronger bacteria that are much harder to kill. But this latest information takes it up a notch. As reports, the triclosan found in soaps, toothpaste and other hygiene products can change the immune system in a young person. Allison Aiello is an associate professor and the lead on the study. As she told, “It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good.”

So triclosan is a Very Bad Thing. (Just how bad? Skin Deep links it to cancer, reproductive toxicity, skin irritations and more.) Good old-fashioned soap and water work well, but more and more people are reaching for the heavy-duty antibacterial soaps that could probably take out a zombie plague. But don’t forget, there are many good reasons not to wash daily. So where does this leave us?

For some, it’s thinking that the culture of clean has gone too far. Yes, germs are bad, and you’re never going to find me walking barefoot through a public bathroom or sticking my hand on things well acquainted with other people. But when I find myself fishing out my shirt sleeve to open a door or gazing in awe at a friend who doesn’t, I have to wonder. Have the cartoon germs which scamper smarmily across cleaner commercials gotten into my subconscious? Or am I really just being a good citizen and not spreading germs?

But as more and more evidence shows that extreme vigilance on the germ front can actually harm us, it is hard to know what’s safe and what’s neurotic. I’ve noticed that when I get sick, I can’t trace the cause to touching the wrong door knob or sitting in the wrong restaurant booth. (Though I can trace my last bad cold to a woman who, rounding a corner on the street, sneezed directly on me. Avoid corners during the aforementioned zombie plague.) In the end, it just time some of us relax a little and let the sunshine (and dirt) in.

Image: arlingtonva

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.