Are Antibacterial Soaps Any Better Than Regular Soap?

Are Antibacterial Soaps Any Better Than Regular Soap?

Here’s the skinny:

The best protection to keep germs at bay is to WASH YOUR HANDS frequently and thoroughly! Wash with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

Are there soaps that are better than others when it comes to fighting germs? If you scour the soap isles at the grocery store it can leave you confused. Too many choices!!!

I thought for many years that antibacterial soap was the better option for germ protection. After all, destroying all bacteria sounds like the perfect goal. However, after doing much research, I’m not so sure antibacterial soap is all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it might be doing more harm than good.

What is Antibacterial Soap?

Antibacterial soaps (also referred to as antimicrobial or antiseptic soaps) are soaps with added antibacterial agents. Usually an antibacterial soap will have an “Antibacterial” label on the front of the product, as well as a “Drug Facts” label on the back, where the antibacterial ingredients are listed.

These antibacterial ingredients are added with the intention of making the soap better able to kill bacteria. It’s important to remember that bacteria are not the same as viruses. Antibacterial soaps are not effective against common viruses you may come into contact with, including cold and flu viruses.

Which Soaps are More Effective?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap. In a 2017 review of antibacterial and antiseptic products, the FDA explained that while millions of Americans use these products, there is no known scientific evidence that antibacterial soap works better than plain soap.

Clinical studies on antibacterial soap would need to demonstrate specifically that the active ingredients in the soaps protect consumers from illness and disease. This quality hasn’t been demonstrated yet, according to the FDA.

Are There Potential Health issues with Using Antibacterial Soaps?

In their assessment of antibacterial soaps, the FDA warned that not only are antibacterial soaps no more effective than regular soap, but they potentially could be more harmful than helpful. There are some concerns with health issues associated with long term use of these soaps.

During 2016, the FDA banned 19 chemicals found in over-the-counter antibacterial soaps, including triclosan (an antibacterial and antifungal agent used in liquid soaps) and triclocarban, (used in bar soaps) because of concerns that these chemicals cause health problems such as bacterial resistance and hormonal disruptions.

This is another reason why plain soap may be preferable to the antibacterial variety. Without triclosan or benzalkonium chloride, regular soap won’t end up killing off good bacteria on the skin. Therefore, ingredients like triclosan could make antibiotics less effective in combating new strains of bacteria.

In addition to these concerns, there is evidence that the active ingredients in many antibacterial soaps are dangerous for children. For instance, studies have shown that these chemicals may increase a child’s chance of developing common food allergies such as peanut allergies and hay fever.

It is thought that children need to be exposed to “good and bad” bacteria while their immune system is developing. Antibacterial soap may interfere with that process since it destroys all bacteria.

Which Anitbacterial Soap Ingredients did the FDA ban in 2016?

The 2016 FDA ruling did not just ban triclosan. 18 other chemicals were banned from use at that time. Here is the complete list:

  1. Cloflucarban
  2. Fluorosalan
  3. Hexachlorophene
  4. Hexylresorcinol
  5. Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
  6. Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
  7. Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
  8. Poloxamer-iodine complex
  9. Povidone-iodine 5 to 10%
  10. Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
  11. Methylbenzethonium chloride
  12. Phenol (greater than 1.5%)
  13. Phenol (less than 1.5%) 16
  14. Secondary amyltricresols
  15. Sodium oxychlorosene
  16. Tribromsalan
  17. Triclocarban
  18. Triclosan
  19. Triple dye

At this point, you might be wondering if any antibacterial soap companies are still in business! Well, there are still plenty of antibacterial soaps left on the market; the manufacturers of these products simply use alternative antibacterial agents.

There are three main ingredients currently being used in antibacterial soap: benzalkonium chloride, benzelthonium chloride and chloroxylenol. The FDA has noted that there is a lack of evidence as to the safety and effectiveness of these ingredients.

Okay, So What is the Best Soap to Use?

Both FDA and CDC don’t recommend any specific brand, rather they suggest using  simply “plain soap.” Liquid is generally preferred over bar soap if you are washing your hands in a public setting because the soap is less likely to be contaminated directly by others.

Personally, I like soaps without any added chemicals or dyes. Soaps with no scent at all, or scented with essential oils top my list as well.

So go ahead and pick any soap that suits your fancy — but do not assume that antibacterial products will yield more desirable results. There’s no proof that antibacterial soaps work any better, while there are plenty of reasons to be wary of them.