Childrearing

Lazy Mommy Vindication: All That Antibacterial Soap Is Wrecking Kids’ Immune Systems

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My daughter loves dirt. She could play in a pile of dirt for hours. She’s the kid who eats things after she drops them on the floor. She’s the child who never considers the possible germs on anything, whether it be a public drinking fountain or a bug crawling on the ground. My little girl comes home with plenty of stains on her clothes and even a couple band-aids on her arms and legs. And I’m completely fine with it!

I feel like I can finally admit, I have never been an antibacterial kind of mom. You know the ones who carry around that gel like their lives depend on it. They wipe down every toy in the dentist waiting room before their kids can touch them. Their children don’t sit in the grass, they sit at a pre-sanitized picnic table. It’s the mom who gasps in horror when my daughter starts talking about the five-second rule. I’ve never been this mom. And today, I found out that I can be proud of that fact!

Today, researchers released a study showing that antibacterial soaps, among other hygiene-related products, effect the way children’s immune systems develop. Basically, we’re making our kids too clean. Jessica Savage, an allergy and immunology fellow at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and lead investigator in this study said, “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.”

Most see the study as a confirmation for the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that the rise in allergies in the developed world comes from our lack of exposure to any germs whatsoever. This makes it harder for our body to tell the difference between actual threats and simple foreign pathogens like pet dander, pollen or certain foods.

With research showing that children with higher levels of antimicrobial in their system were at “twice the risk of environmental allergies” as children with lower levels, it’s going to be hard to dispute the hygiene hypothesis. And moms like me who were pretty lax with all those anti-germ rules can feel a little more confident today than they did yesterday.

In light of this research, it’s interesting to note that other recent studies showed city kids were more likely to develop food allergies. Could it be that lack of germ-paranoia is just a byproduct of growing up in the Midwest and having parents who lived on farms in their younger years? Is this general acceptance of dirt and the outdoors whats keeping children raise in the country from having as many problems as their metropolitan peers?

That’s complete conjecture. I have no proof there. But I do have proof that my daughter will be just fine if I don’t wipe off everything she ever touches with an antibacterial wipe, and that’s good enough for me!

(Photo: Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock)