Anti-Bacterial Soaps: 5 Reasons to Avoid Them

Hands washing with a bar of soap.

We’re exposed to millions of germs and bacteria every day. Many of us use antibacterial products to reduce our risk of getting sick or passing germs and bacteria onto others- but are they really more effective at killing the bad germs than regular soap? Antibacterial soap is any cleaning product with active antimicrobial ingredients added and not found in regular soaps. An antimicrobial is something that works to kill microorganisms or stops their growth. For example, antibiotics and antibacterial soaps are used to fight bacteria. While bacteria sounds like a bad thing, it can actually be good for you. Your body needs bacteria to maintain a healthy, balanced environment on your skin. Here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t use antibacterial soaps:

  1. Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than conventional soap and water. 42 years of FDA research, along with countless independent studies, have produced no evidence that triclosan (an active ingredient in AB soaps) provides any health benefits as compared to old fashioned soap. So far, analyses of the health benefits don’t show any evidence that triclosan can reduce the transmission of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. This might be due to the fact that antibacterial soaps specifically target bacteria, but not the viruses that cause the majority of seasonal colds and flus.
  2. Antibacterial soaps have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Heavy use of antibiotics can cause resistance, which results from a small subset of a bacteria population with a random mutation that allows it to survive exposure to the chemical. If that chemical is used frequently enough, it’ll kill other bacteria, but allow this resistant subset to proliferate. If this happens on a broad enough scale, it can essentially render that chemical useless against the strain of bacteria.
  3. The soaps could act as endocrine disruptors. A number of studies have found that in rats, frogs and other animals, triclosan appears to interfere with the body’s regulation of thyroid hormone, perhaps because it chemically resembles the hormone closely enough that it can bind to its receptor sites. If this is the case in humans too, there are worries that it could lead to problems such as infertility, artificially-advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer.
  4. The soaps might lead to other health problems, too. There’s evidence that children with prolonged exposure to triclosan have a higher chance of developing allergies, including peanut allergies and hay fever. Scientists speculate that this could be a result of reduced exposure to bacteria, which could be necessary for proper immune system functioning and development. Another study found evidence that triclosan interfered with muscle contractions in human cells, as well as muscle activity. This is especially concerning given other findings that the chemical can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream more easily.
  5. Antibacterial soaps are bad for the environment. When we use a lot of triclosan in soap, that means a lot of triclosan gets flushed down the drain. Research has shown that small quantities of the chemical can persist after treatment at sewage plants, which can stream into other bodies of water. Once in the environment, triclosan can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis. The chemical is also fat-soluble, meaning that it builds up in fatty tissues; scientists are concerned that it can bio magnify, appearing at greater levels in the tissues of animals higher up the food chain, as the triclosan of all the plants and animals below them is concentrated.

As fast and convenient as hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps may seem, washing your hands with soap and water is still the best way to prevent common bacterial infections. However, it is important to do so correctly. Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is what is  recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. Finally, check that the soaps and body washes you use do not contain triclosan, triclocarban, or any other banned ingredient from the FDA. It may be tempting to find products that claim to protect you from “99.9% of household germs,” but don’t be misled by marketing that may or may not be true. To better protect yourself and your family, simply wash your hands with  regular soap and water. This includes washing before and after eating or preparing food, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, before touching your face, and after being out in public and touching shared surfaces. Consistent and correct handwashing with soap and water is far more effective at stopping germs than any individual ingredient such as antibacterial soaps!

Resources:
www.unitypoint.org
www.smithsonianmag.com
www.verywellhealth.com

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