Antibacterial Soap vs. Regular Soap

On December 16, 2013, it issued a rule asking soap manufacturers to show how their antibacterial soaps are more effective in preventing sickness than regular soaps, and their safety regarding long-term daily use.


In its press release, the FDA included comments from its director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Antibacterial soaps and body washes are used widely and frequently by consumers in everyday home, work, school, and public settings, where the risk of infection is relatively low,” said Janet Woodcock M.D., “Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk.”


This rule is open to public comment for 180 days, but once it is put into place after one year, the manufacturers who do not demonstrate the advantages of antibacterial soap will have to take out the “antibacterial” part by eliminating the antibacterial ingredients from the soaps, or removing the name “antibacterial” from labels.


75% of liquid soaps sold in grocery stores bear the title “antibacterial,” but there’s no evidence that shows antibacterial soaps actually are more effective at eliminating germs than washing your hands with regular soap and water. What’s startling is that the main ingredient in antibacterial soaps, called triclosan, has been shown to cause health and hormonal problems, and bacterial resistance.


Although triclosan has been on the market for over 40 years in products like hand soap, bar soap, body wash, toothpaste and even toys, it’s caused some controversy in recent studies. Some suggest that "triclosan can cause alterations in thyroid, reproductive, growth, and developmental systems of neonatal and adolescent animals.” Obviously humans can’t be compared with adolescent animals in terms of these results, but the chemical still poses a risk. Triclosan’s chemical properties also allow it to be easily absorbed into the skin, and according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, three-quarters of Americans had triclosan in their urine in 2003-2004. The chemical has also been found in breast milk and blood.


The main difference between soaps with triclosan and regular soaps is that triclosan kills bacteria while regular soaps merely remove bacteria. What’s the difference? It comes down to a battle between good germs and bad germs. Antibacterial soaps also kill the germs that our bodies need to come in contact with to strengthen antibodies and develop natural immunities. A problem arises when people use antibacterial soaps when they’re not necessary, for example, everyday use, instead of for sterilization in hospitals. An overuse of antibacterial products could lead to stronger, or more resistant bacteria overall. Researchers at Stony Brook University and Loyola University have recorded this microbial drug resistance.


So, what’s the bottom line? Antibacterial soaps have designated uses, in places like hospitals, and are accompanied by some issues when it comes to everyday use.  Washing your hands with plain soap rids of germs and doesn’t pose any sort of health risk – it’s the way to go.

Madeline Bilis is an intern with Boston Parents Paper

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15 Jan 2014

By Madeline Bilis