Does washing with anti-bacterial soaps really keep you from coming down with the flu or a cold? These airborne illnesses are contagious, so a defensive lifestyle regime makes sense in order to combat them.
Antibacterial soap is essentially any cleaning product with active antimicrobial ingredients added. These agents or chemical ingredients purportedly assist in killing bacteria and germs. There are two types of antibacterial agents:
Fast-acting antibacterials, such as alcohol, chlorine, and peroxide, are found in many hand sanitizers. They leave no residue behind and eliminate harmful bacteria without wiping out good bacteria, and are generally safe and effective.
Residue-producing antibacterials are found in the majority of antibacterial soaps. These newer compounds break down more slowly, leaving a residue on the skin. They work more slowly to eliminate bacteria and can allow for the development of resistant bacteria. They include triclosan, triclocarban, benzalkonium chloride and chloroxylenol. Triclosan can be found in 76 percent of liquid antibacterial soaps used in the United States. Triclocarban, another residue-producing antibacterial, is in approximately 30 percent of antibacterial bar soaps.
In the summer of 2014 the FDA ruled that these soaps do little or nothing to stop the spread of germs and said the industry has failed to prove they’re safe. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap”. In September of last year the FDA went a step further and ruled that antiseptic wash products (including liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients including triclosan and triclocarban, will no longer be able to be marketed because manufacturers haven’t proven that those ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Also manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products, ahead of the FDA’s final rule.
I researched purchasing these soaps and found that they are still on the market but many stores have moved the antibacterial version of these soaps including the popular Dove, Dial and Safeguard brands, out of retail locations and onto online stores. So when is it valuable to use them? Research shows that they are helpful in environments where people’s immune systems are weak and susceptible to infection including hospitals, doctors’ offices and exam rooms. This could help prevent patients with weak immune systems from picking up bacteria that could worsen their condition.
Antibacterial hand sanitizers that have at least 60 percent alcohol levels are considered effective alternatives when a person doesn’t have access to soap and hot water, and are convenient to use. Note that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and should not be used when hands are visibly greasy or dirty.
Unfortunately the cons for using these soaps outweigh the benefits.
- People who use hand sanitizer may not think that they need to wash their hands as often as people who don’t use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer shouldn’t be used as a substitute for hand-washing with hot water and soap. A thorough hand-washing regimen has been shown to be effective in removing bacteria and germs. Also, hand sanitizer can dry the skin causing cracking and risk of infection especially during the cold months of the year.
- The overuse of antibacterial soaps and other products can reduce the amount of healthy bacteria on a person’s skin. There are some types of bacteria that protect a person against infections. These good or healthy bacteria die right along with the bad bacteria when antibacterial products are used too often in a household. Many parents use antibacterial cleaning products in the bathrooms and other rooms of their home in an effort to keep germs away from their children. Consequently, the child is more vulnerable when he or she begins school or goes to a place where bacteria are present.
- In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics. Triclosan can be found in many products today. It has been added to many consumer products including clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys to prevent bacterial contamination. Because of that, people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.
Tips for Washing Your Hands
Washing hands with soap (either antibacterial or regular) and water is the one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others. The CDC recommends these five tips for effective hand washing:
- Wet your hands with warm, running water, and add soap.
- Rub your hands together, making a soapy lather. Wash the front and back of hands, between your fingers and under nails for at least 20 seconds or two rounds of the song “Happy Birthday.”
- Rinse your hands well under warm, running water.
- Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.
- Turn off water with a clean paper towel and dispose of properly.