Adults’ obsession with antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and other personal care products may be making our children more prone to many allergies, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, in Baltimore, Maryland. While not the direct cause, researchers say such products may impair the development of children’s immune systems.
In a study of 860 children between the ages of 6 and 18, researchers found elevated levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in children from households where these products were used. IgEs are immune chemicals that increase when exposed to allergy-causing substances like pollen, pet dander and certain foods. Urine levels of triclosan, an antibacterial agent used in soaps, mouthwash and toothpaste, had the strongest link to increased IgE levels and increased allergy risk. Parabens, preservatives with antimicrobial properties commonly found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions and body washes, were strongly associated with allergies to pollen and pet dander.
These results confirm the “hygiene hypothesis” that society’s focus on cleanliness has actually prevented children from getting dirty and developing strong immune systems that are regularly challenged and strengthened by pathogens, say researchers.