Could Hand Soap Give You Cancer?!

Nov 18, 2014 08:47 PM EST

New research has found a disturbing link between an common soap ingredient and cancer. The same ingredient, a popularly used antimicrobial, can also be found in other common hygiene products, including toothpaste, and could potentially heighten a person's risk of developing liver fibrosis.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which details how the antimicrobial known as triclosan may actually be harmful to human health.

Tricolsan is added to a wide array of hygiene products because of its ability to slow or completely prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. It can even be found as material preservant in footwear and some clothing to prevent the buildup of mildew.

However, some past studies have found inconclusive evidence that prolonged exposure to triclosan may promote resistance in bacteria, and even alter hormone regulation in some organisms.

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Following up on those claims, a team at the University of California in San Diego launched an investigation of their own into the potential harmful effects of this product.

"Triclosan's increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action," researcher Robert H. Tukey said in a statement.

He became convinced of this after he and his colleagues exposed a group of mice to low concentrations of triclosan for 6 months - the equivalent to 18 years in humans - and compared their health with that of a group of mice not exposed to the agent.

Disturbingly, the exposed group was found to be notably more susceptible to chemical-induced liver tumors. Their tumors were also larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed to triclosan.

The team suggests that this may be occurring because triclosan could be put serious amounts of stress on the liver and a protein responsible for detoxifying foreign chemicals in the body. The result is a fibrotic liver that eventually promotes tumor formation.

However, this remains unproven.

"We could reduce most human and environmental exposures by eliminating uses of triclosan that are high volume, but of low benefit, such as inclusion in liquid hand soaps," co-author Bruce D. Hammock suggests. "Yet we could also for now retain uses shown to have health value - as in toothpaste, where the amount used is small."

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