How Effective is Anti-Bacterial Soap Really?

The fall and winter months that bring sicknesses such as flu, stomach viruses, strep throat and other germ related illnesses often also bring an outbreak in the purchases of antibacterial soap. Most consumers feel safer washing their hands with a product that is labeled as being antibacterial. Our society has created the belief that ordinary soap is not as sufficient for getting rid of germs as those that are described as having antibacterial ingredients. However, many have questioned and preformed research to determine if antibacterial soap is really better at killing germs than regular soap.

Triclosan and Triclocarban

Soaps are considered and allowed to be labeled as antibacterial if they contain the ingredients Triclosan and/or Triclocarban. Soaps not containing Triclosan or Triclocarban are not labeled as being antibacterial. Research studies show that soaps with these two ingredients (those labeled as antibacterial soaps) are no more effective at killing germs or preventing sicknesses caused from bacteria and germs than those soaps not containing these antibacterial labeling ingredients.

While it is extremely important to wash your hands with soap after germ exposing activities such as using the restroom, changing a baby, sneezing, coughing, and touching raw food, it is not more effective to use an antibacterial soap to cleanse over plain soaps. Plain soaps without the antibacterial label will also provide the needed cleansing that is necessary to kill germs that often lead to sicknesses.

Research Studies

One study examined families that used antibacterial soaps for one year and compared them to other families that had used regular soaps for the same amount of time: one year. The results that were provided proved that the people who used the antibacterial soaps had no more of a resistance to bacteria or germs than those who did not use the antibacterial labeled soaps. These studies do not take into consideration the alcohol based waterless hand cleaners that are too labeled as being antibacterial.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have conducted three separate studies in which it was discovered that both Triclosan and Triclocarban pose a threat to the nervous system as well as affecting sex hormones. These ingredients have also been linked to a possible cause of autism.

At this point in time, the researchers have concluded that these particular chemicals, that are sold as part of antibacterial cleaner, do not work as well as a normal bar of soap does, and, in fact, they believe that these so-called healthier antibacterial soaps may even encourage the increase in resistant bacteria.

Triclosan and Triclocarban were manufactured during the 1950s and 1960s as an antiseptic agent in countrywide hospitals.

In the USA alone, annual sales of antibacterial products are over $1 billion. Over 76% of all antibacterial liquid soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, cosmetics, plastic food containers and even fabrics contain Triclosan!

Almost every antibacterial deodorant and bar soap contains Triclocarban.

Of course, the governments all over the world have a different spin on things. Although the EPA is currently re-evaluating the benefits and detriments of Triclosan, it did release a report that was published in the Federal Register in May 2008 in which the EPA stated that Triclosan was safe to use and therefore should not be a cause of concern for the public.

Across the globe, the European Commission released a similar statement after reporting on Triclosan in 2002 and Triclocarban in 2005.

In 2005, the FDA conducted research and made a statement that determined that there was no difference in the effectiveness of using an antibacterial soap in comparison to a soap that does not contain Triclosan when it comes to killing germs and ridding your hands of bacteria. At one point in time, the FDA panel even considered banning the label that uses the term antibacterial on soaps and similar products. However, this action never took place and thus the label in still in use.

Other Options

When it comes to purchasing and using soap, the key factor is simply to buy it and use it properly. It does not matter which brand or label soap is purchased to acquire the desired results of clean hands. Washing your hands with soap and water is just as effective at getting rid of germs no matter which type of soap is chosen. The real difference involved is in the technique of using the soap to wash your hands rather than in the type of soap that is used.

However, your best choice is to look for anti-bacterial soaps that are 100% natural, such as Neem Soap. Not only does it have anti-bacterial properties but anti-fungal and anti-septic as well. It can be used on humans and pets alike!

Another option is to make your own anti-bacterial soap using Tea Tree Oil for its natural anti-bacterial properties.

Photo Credit: Twon

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Paulina Nelega, MLT, RH

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