Posted by: Ticktock | June 16, 2008

Toxins and Chemicals: Bug Spray and Antibacterial Soap

I generally try to be careful when it comes to child safety and health.  When forced to decide between two products, one of which is known to be safe and one which has limited evidence of harm, I will switch to the possibly safer product.  Skeptical Inquiry is a tool that I use to weed out the paranormal, pseudo science, alternative medicine, and other such claims, but it isn’t a method that can reveal ultimate truth in all things.  I rely on science and peer review to take me only so far, and then I must submit to my instincts and judgement (unless my instincts would cause more harm to my child- ex: not vaccinating).

Listed here are three ways that you can possibly make your home more safe.  I say “possibly” because the scientific literature is not concrete.  But why take any chances when you can switch to products that don’t show any evidence of harm?

Bug Spray – Deet (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is an ingredient in most bug sprays.  It works really well, but it’s been connected to siezures, irritated skin, and other rare complications (such as death).  While it would be unlikely for anyone to experience side effects from Deet, it should be noted that there are safer options that are equally as effective.  Why not try a bug spray with the ingredient Picaridin (also called Icaridin)?  Picaridin has not been connected to any health concerns, and it works better than Deet.  Try Cutter Advanced for the best Picaridin bug spray alternative.  Lemon Eucalyptus is also a decent option, but it’s not recommended for children under age 3.

Antibacterial Soap – Debate rages as to whether antibacterial soap is doing more harm than good by the undeniable fact that it’s advancing the evolution of bacteria to be resistant to treatment.  We’re already seeing problems with MRSA at hospitals that are being blamed on such soaps.  Now antibacterial soap is being investigated for two other reasons:  the ingredients triclosan and triclocarban.  These two ingredients are not looking too good.  A team from University of California in Davis has done several studies on triclosan and triclocarban, and each time they affect sex horomones and mess with the nervous system.  Other tests indicate that triclosan can attach to brain cells and possibly burn out neural circuits by amping up the calcium in the cell.  The individuals most affected by the potential dangers of triclosan are pregnant mothers, infants, and the elderly.  The horrifying aspect to this story is that triclosan doesn’t break down easily, it’s hard to filter out of treated water at sewage plants, and some studies have found it in 70% of urine samples.  Try a triclosan-free soap such as Vermont Soap.

Sippie Cups – I’ve written about Bisphenol-A before, so I won’t go into too much detail.  I just want to remind everyone that there are quality BPA-Free bottles and sippie cups at Born Free and Sigg.  BPA was originally designed to be synthetic estrogen and somebody decided it would make a fine ingredient in plastic.  Now, we’re looking at rat studies that show it altering genes and messing with sex hormones.  The government has “some concern” about the disconcerting studies.

I welcome suggestions in the comments for other products that are safe precautions to potentially harmful products.  And, of course, I also welcome anyone who wants to dispute my precautions.


  1. Hi, Colin. I work for the DEET Education Program, Washington, DC and read with interest your blog on insect repellents. Your assessment of DEET is interesting because it suggests that you have fallen into the “urban legend” trap, like so many others, with regard to DEET. I’d be happy to have you talk to some of our experts (they are independent) on insect repellents to provide you with the real story so you will have a better sense of confidence in DEET-based products. You should know that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children over the age of two months can use up to a 30% concentration. They have reviewed all of the data thoroughly (both published and unpublished). They would never have made this recommendation if the “urban legends” were scientifically viable. We also work with all of the other repellents (key formulators make all of these). Picaridin does not work better than DEET–they are both comparable at comparable concentrations. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus sounds “natural”–but is the synthesized molecule, not the actual oil from the plant itself. Hope this information helps. Call me for more at 800- 789-3300. Have a great day…and bravo for being home with your girls…you will transform their lives through your dedication to them!

  2. Thanks so much! Glad to have your response!

  3. A stainless steel alternative is the Kleen Kanteen. They just came out with colors too.

    As far as the Sigg bottle, I am under the impression that the “stove enamel” which makes up their lining may contain BPA. They have not disclosed the specific ingredients in their lining. Also they have switched the lining to being a “water-based” stove enamel whether that still contains BPA is not known to me. Don’t all epoxies whether water-based or not contain BPA?

  4. I believe that Sigg has admitted to some BPA in their bottles, but it amounts to very little comapred to other brands. They’re based out of Switzerland. Europe seems to be on the ball with BPA. So, I guess I’m taking their word for it.

  5. […] bad news is that I bought all new BPA-Free bottles and sippie […]

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