Nasty chemical of the month: benzalkonium chloride
Benzalkonium chloride is an antibacterial chemical that’s added to household cleaners and cosmetic products because it kills germs, but that’s not all it does. It also has the potential to cause skin and eye irritation and is highly toxic to aquatic organisms, which is a problem as it’s often washed down drains.
And the troubles don’t stop there.
The over-use of household antibacterial agents like Benzalkonium chloride is thought to contribute to the problem of bacterial resistance and to hinder the immune system from developing natural immunity to pathogens.
Our immune systems have an in-built memory which gives us immediate defense from pathogens we’ve encountered before, so if we continue to sterilise our homes by killing bacteria that are otherwise not extremely harmful, our immune cells never get the chance to meet and greet these microorganisms and set up a lifetime defense against them.
So as a result of protecting ourselves from bacteria that are normally not harmful, we may effectively weaken our ability to naturally protect ourselves further down the track.
Research has also shown that there’s a connection between too much hygiene and the occurrence of illnesses that develop due to a weak immune system, such as asthma and allergies.
That’s why we recommend that you say no to products that contain Benzalkonium chloride and only use ‘antibacterial’ products when they’re really needed, like when someone in your family has an infectious disease.
An interesting read:
Some of My Best Friends are Germs - Michael Pollan. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Strong irritants masquerading as skin allergens: the case of Benzalkonium Chloride
The Disinfectant Effects of Benzalkonium Chloride on Some Important Foodborne Pathogens
Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern
Evaluation and modeling of benzalkonium chloride inhibition and biodegradation in activated sludge