Children’s Center questions antibacterial ingredient effects on immune system

By Andrew McDougall

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Personal care products Immune system Allergy

A new study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore has questioned the safety of a number of personal care products containing antimicrobial agents that could affect immune system development in children.

It comes after antibacterial ingredient triclosan, and parabens found in cosmetics have come under further scrutiny despite studies claiming their safety in personal care products.

Earlier this year the American Cleaning Institute issued a reminder to consumers that triclosan, used in personal care and hand-hygiene products, has a track record of being safe and effective.

At risk?

However new research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, has stated that exposure to common antibacterial chemicals and preservatives found in soap and other personal care products may make children more prone to a wide range of food and environmental allergies.

Whilst the researchers say their results do not demonstrate that antibacterials and preservatives themselves cause the allergies, they suggest that these agents play a role in immune system development.

"We saw a link between level of exposure, measured by the amount of antimicrobial agents in the urine, and allergy risk, indicated by circulating antibodies to specific allergens,"​ said Jessica Savage, lead investigator for the research which will be published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology​.

Allergic reactions

Using existing data from a national health survey of 860 children ages 6 to 18, Johns Hopkins researchers examined the relationship between a child's urinary levels of antibacterials and preservatives found in many personal care products to see if any allergic reactions occurred.

"The link between allergy risk and antimicrobial exposure suggests that these agents may disrupt the delicate balance between beneficial and bad bacteria in the body and lead to immune system dysregulation, which in turn raises the risk of allergies,"​ Savage added.

In the study, the team tested for levels of a number of antimicrobial agents used in cosmetics such as triclosan and parabens and judged that exposure could affect immune system development.

The team initially zeroed in on seven ingredients previously shown to disrupt endocrine function finding that triclosan and propyl and butyl parabens, all of which have antimicrobial properties, were the only ones associated with increased allergy risk in the current study.

Further studies to be done

"This finding highlights the antimicrobial properties of these agents as a probable driving force behind their effect on the immune system,"​ said senior investigator Corinne Keet, an allergist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

However, despite this and other studies carried out around the world into the effects of triclosan and parabens in personal care products, a number of governmental bodies have deemed them to be safe and effective.

The ACI says that science-based research and data show triclosan is safe for use in regulated hygiene products, does not cause significant risks or harm to human health and the environment, and does not contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Related topics Formulation & Science