Do We Really Need Antibacterial Soap?
When you need soap, body wash or household cleaners, do you reach for products labeled “antibacterial?”
I understand why folks (especially those with children) are choosing products labeled “ANTIBACTERIAL,” hoping to keep their family safe in the war against germs.
There are so many commercials and ads that extol the virtues of antibacterial soaps and cleaners. After all, they "kill 99.9% of germs." Sounds terrific, right? Shouldn’t we all want germ free hands and countertops?
A study done by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) concluded that “mass-marketed antiseptics have shown no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap.”
"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 and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
Adding antibacterial chemicals to soap does not keep your family safe from germs.
FDA Bans Triclosan
In 2013 the FDA issued a proposed rule that required the manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to prove that their products were more effective than plain soap and were safe for long-term use. The proof never came.
So, on September 2, 2106, the FDA issued a final rule banning the use of 19 active ingredients, including triclosan and triclocarban, found in antibacterial hand and body washes.
If a product makes any antibacterial or antiseptic claims, chances are pretty good that it contains one of these 19 ingredients.
Companies have one year, until September 2017, to remove these ingredients from their products or remove the products from the market.
This Ban Is Good News, Right?
While the FDA's new ban seems to be good news, the ban only applies to hand and body washes – products that are “intended for use with water, and are rinsed off after use.” (Source: fda.gov)
The problem is -- there are many other products, including cosmetics, shaving creams, toothpaste, deodorants, lip balm, body lotion, fragrances, household cleaners, sponges and even facial tissues and mattresses, that can still use antibacterial chemicals under the present ban. Antibacterials are also found in workout clothes and children's toys.
The ban also does not affect antibacterial soaps used in hospitals and food service settings or the hand sanitizers and wipes that have a pervasive presence in our daily lives.
Countless other products still contain triclosan, despite the ban on hand and body washes. The FDA claims that it needs more information before making a final ruling on these other products.
Antibacterials Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon!!
While the majority of bacteria that we encounter every day are not our enemies, millions of Americans continue to want antibacterial products. As long as consumers want them, the industry will figure out a way to provide them.
Many companies have already removed the banned ingredients and replaced them with one of three other chemicals called quaternary ammonia compounds; benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride or chloroxylenol.
While it is easy to find triclosan on an ingredient list, these ingredients go by so many different names they can easily hide and may be difficult to identify.
Health officials worry that these antibacterial agents, which have not been approved by the FDA, will have the same problems as triclosan and the other banned additives. Manufacturers have been given a year to gather evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of these new antibacterial additions.
Problems With Antibacterials . . . They Don't Work Better Than Soap
By the year 2000, triclosan was present in 75% of liquid soap and almost 30% of bar soaps in the United States.
However, a study done by the FDA showed that "antibacterial soaps have shown no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap.” (Source: fda.gov)
All Bacteria Are Not Germs
The word Germ is not a technical term, but we use it to reference microscopic organisms, like bacteria and viruses, that cause disease. The problem is that we often think that all bacteria are disease-causing germs, but nothing could be further from the truth. (Right Picture: nytimes.com "Tending the Body’s Microbial Garden." Drawing by Hank Osuna)
Most of the bacteria that live in and on our bodies are not only helpful but are also necessary for our good health. Sadly, the belief that having bacteria on our skin is bad, feeds our obsession with antibacterial products.
We have all heard about the importance of the natural microbiome in our gut that is necessary for good digestive and overall health. Well, the microbiome on our skin is equally as important.
Natural bacteria that live on our skin act as the first line of defense to help fight off bad bacteria. For this defense to work properly, the good bacteria need to stay on our skin. Unfortunately, antibacterial agents do not discriminate between bad and good bacteria, they kill them all.
Researchers believe that one possible cause of the increase in inflammatory skin diseases, like eczema, is an imbalance of the normal skin bacteria. (Source: Immune System, Skin Microbiome "Complement" One Another, Finds Penn Medicine Study at uphs.edu)
Viruses Are Not Bacteria
While antibacterial agents do work on bacteria, they do nothing to protect against viruses which cause the majority of minor illnesses like colds and flu.
Furthermore, antibacterial soaps strip away the helpful bacteria that help keep the balance of our microbiome. As a result, fungal and viral infections are able to flourish.
The natural bacteria present on your skin actually compete for space with bad bacteria, fungi, and viruses to keep our microbiome healthy. (Picture from: boothbaywellness.org)
I Have To Wash How Long?
What the commercials do not tell you is that in order for an antibacterial soap to kill 99.9% of germs on your hands, the soap must remain in contact with bacteria for about two minutes. How many of us spend that much time washing our hands? The same is true for kitchen cleaners . . . the cleaner must sit for at least two minutes.
Scientists know that long-term exposure to chemical antibacterial agents causes bacterial resistance. Only a few years after the first antibiotic, penicillin, became widely used in the 1940s, penicillin-resistant infections were already seen.
“Superbugs,” are stronger than the original bacteria. These resistant bacteria force the development of stronger and stronger antibacterial agents to fight illness. (Picture from: novartis.com)
As these antibacterial agents are washed down our drains, they contaminate our rivers, streams, and groundwater. A 2004 study by the CDC found that “about three-quarters of adults and children older than six had detectable levels of triclosan” in their bloodstreams."
A study in Environmental Health Perspectives found triclosan in 74.6% of people’s urine samples. And triclosan has been found in 97 percent of breast milk samples studied.
Eventually, what we put into our drain water makes its way back to us. Most modern treatment processes cannot fully filter out triclosan. In fact, the wastewater treatment process often breaks down triclosan into more dangerous forms.
The Great Lakes basin receives waste water from about 40 million surrounding residents. Triclosan has been detected in 90 percent of surface water samples and found in many fish in the Great Lakes. (Picture above from: saferchemicals.org)
Germs and Dirt Help Build The Immune System
According to Dr. Mary Ruebush, "For decades, we’ve been a culture obsessed with avoiding germs, convinced that getting dirty is dangerous."
"But some health professionals insist that exposure to a range of bacteria is not only safe, it’s essential to human health and immunity."
"The immune system is like an athlete: To become strong and adept, it needs training and practice. Hyper-sanitized environments deny it that opportunity and keep it sedentary and out of shape." (Source: experiencelife.com "Dirt, Germs, and Other Friendly Filth")
What Can We Do?
For personal use: A study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that antibacterial soaps provide no benefit over washing your hands with plain soap and water.
So we recommend a good hand washing with natural soap and water.
Simply washing your hands with old-fashioned natural soap and water rids your skin of most fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Soap does not kill germs, it surrounds them and carries them away.
The best way to keep your hands free and clear of germs is to take 10 to 20 seconds and rub your hands with soap under running warm water to create lots of lather. Then rinse with plenty of clean warm water.
Although cold water will work, warm water helps dissolve oily dirt making it easier to rinse it off of your skin.
Of course, our Chagrin Valley Soaps, made with organic ingredients, are a great choice to naturally clean your hands and body.
If soap and water are not available using a commercial alcohol-based hand sanitizer for 20 seconds will offer some protection between hand washings.
- sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol
- while alcohol can kill bacteria, it will not clean hands
- not effective against E-coli -- so not good in the kitchen
- be sure to read ingredients--some alcohol sanitizers still contain antibacterial agents
I make an assortment of my own versions of hand sanitizer. They are all a bit different, but basically, they contain essential oils mixed with ethyl alcohol (like vodka), or organic aloe gel or witch hazel. Check out the Internet for recipes.
For household use my go-to cleaner is plain, ordinary, vinegar. I use full strength vinegar to clean counter tops and greasy stove tops etc. I use a 1:1 dilution of water and vinegar in a spray bottle as my all purpose cleaner around the house. (I sometimes add essential oils)
White vinegars, like Heinz, contain at least 5 percent acetic acid and are called "5 percent vinegars." The acidic properties create a low pH which is too strong for most germs to survive, making vinegar a great inexpensive household cleaner.
Vinegar is non-toxic, biodegradable, environmentally friendly, and does not give off dangerous fumes. While vinegar does have a distinct odor, the smell dissipates quickly.
I also like to make essential oil cleaners using oils known for their antibacterial properties, like tea tree, thyme, lavender, oregano or rosemary. There is a lot of information available on the Internet about making your own natural and effective household cleaners.
One added note, be sure that you are not using a crusty, old, bacteria-laden sponge or dishcloth to clean your home!
I hope you enjoyed our blog. Please share your thoughts with us.
Do you have any recipes for homemade natural cleaners?
Do you have any recipes for homemade natural hand sanitizers?