Lather Up, But Ditch the Antibacterial Soap!
Washing your hands significantly reduces the spread of bacteria and cuts down on illnesses. But does it matter what kind of soap you use? As it turns out, antibacterial soap is no more effective at reducing germs than regular soap.
Researchers found that it takes 9 hours of soaking in antibacterial soap to kill the bacteria. Showing that antibacterial soap was no more effective at killing bacteria than plain soap in real life conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, antibacterial soaps do NOT kill viruses. Viruses are responsible for many illnesses causing cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms. Studies show that people who use antibacterial soaps and cleansers develop these virus causing illnesses just as often as people who use regular soaps.
Are Antibacterial Soaps Beneficial?
Is there any benefit in using antibacterial soap? If it works the same as using plain soap and water, it may just be a difference of personal preference. However, there is a downside to antibacterial soap…. triclosan. Triclosan, which is used in antibacterial soap is harmful to health. There is evidence that exposure to triclosan may effect hormones.
Possible effects of triclosan:
- Decreased circulating concentrations of the thyroid hormone thyroxine.
- Estrogenic activities in human breast cancer cells, which may stimulate the growth and development of cancer cells.
- The chemical has also been found to impair muscle function in both humans and animals.
- Linked to an increase in allergies among children.
- It’s even been found to help staph bacteria colonize in the human nose and can double a person's risk of carrying and spreading the staph infection.
Part of the problem is that studies show triclosan penetrates your skin and enters your bloodstream much easier than was once thought.
“Despite the absence of efficacy data, manufacturers have aggressively marketed antibacterial soaps to the American public. As a result of widespread use of such soaps, 75 percent of Americans have triclosan in their bodies, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data…
Triclosan has been found in pregnant women… in cord blood… and in breast milk… indicating that triclosan exposures start from the first moments of life.
A pilot study found triclocarban [another antibacterial chemical] in a third of urine samples collected from American adults with no known triclocarban exposure… The exposures would likely be much higher among consumers who buy triclocarban products.
New data point to the risks of triclosan and triclocarban to human health due to their endocrine-disrupting potential, indicating that each and every non-medical use of these potent chemicals must be scrutinized from public health and safety point of view.”
Triclosan and the Environment
Once you wash your hands with antibacterial soap, the triclosan gets washed down the drain and into our water supplies. It effects our rivers, streams, lakes and even oceans. This effects the floral life in the water, algaes etc. and eventually, marine life.
“The chemical is also fat-soluble — meaning that it builds up in fatty tissues — so scientists are concerned that it can biomagnify, 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.
Evidence of this possibility was turned up in 2009, when surveys of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of South Carolina and Florida found concerning levels of the chemical in their blood.”
Triclosan may also be contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Triclosan is in many products besides hand soaps and sanitizers. It can be found in detergents, body wash, toothpaste, and even cutting boards and lipstick.
“Laboratory studies on bacteria exposed to triclosan demonstrate evidence of cross-resistance to critically important antibiotics including erythromycin, ciprofloxacin, ampicillin, and gentamicin. Further, there is evidence that resistance to triclosan itself exists in Salmonella enterica, Staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus, Escherichia coli, and other species of bacteria.
Strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis tolerant to triclosan have also showed resistance to the drug isoniazid (INH), which is used to treat tuberculosis.
Although the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock is a greater contributor to the public health crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the potential increased risk of antibiotic resistance from the use of antimicrobial chemicals is unnecessary.”
Tips for Effective Hand Washing
Hand washing is a simple way to reduce your exposure to germs. Especially before eating or touching your mouth, eyes, and nose, and after using the restroom or visiting public areas.
To properly wash hands, follow these guidelines:
- Use warm, running water, and a mild soap (avoid antibacterial soap)
- Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, and scrubbing for at least 15 or 20 seconds (most people only wash for about 6 seconds)
- Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and around and below your fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly under running water
- In public places, use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that the handles may harbor
Finally, if you want a natural alternative to antibacterial cleaners around your home, try 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Simply put each liquid into a separate spray bottle, then spray the surface with one followed by the other. (it is 10 times more effective than using either spray by itself and more effective than mixing the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in one sprayer)
This spray combination is more effective at killing bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.
PS If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, keep it out of children’s reach. Such products are not more effective than washing with plain hand soap and water and they may be hazardous to children. In 2013, US poison centers had more than 16,000 calls about children under 12 eating hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizer may be 40 percent to 95 percent alcohol, so even a small amount can be toxic to kids.