Antibacterial Soap – Should You Use It?
In keeping with the overzealous commitment to cleanliness that many Americans share, antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers, and cleansing wipes are very popular in the U.S. While no doubt well-intentioned, these efforts to eliminate every trace of dirt and grime are often misguided, and in some cases can actually end up doing more harm than good.
Many research studies show that antibacterial soaps are no more effective at cleaning than conventional soaps. What’s more, they offer no health benefits whatsoever. In fact, the opposite may be true. The human body and skin are replete with bacteria, the vast majority of which are neutral or beneficial. Because the use of antibacterial cleansing products can change the composition of the bacteria on the skin, these products can potentially create new health concerns, especially for young children.
The active ingredient of most antibacterial soaps is a chemical called triclosan, which is an antibiotic that can destroy bacteria. While triclosan was originally developed for use in hospitals and other healthcare settings, where the importance of preventing infection is paramount, it has now made its way into countless products designed for home use. When bacteria are regularly exposed to triclosan, a random cellular mutation can occur in a small subset of the bacteria population, allowing the mutated bacteria to survive. In this way, the use of antibacterial products can potentially lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If this occurs on a large scale, it can eventually render the chemical useless in defending against these hardier strains of bacteria, and thus interfere with the control and treatment of infections.
There is also some evidence to suggest that children who are exposed to triclosan may have an elevated risk of developing allergies. This is believed to be a consequence of their reduced exposure to bacteria, which may be necessary for proper immune system development and function.
In sum, most experts believe that the risks of using antibacterial cleansing products outside of healthcare settings outweigh the benefits (which are essentially non-existent). With that said, hand washing is still very important. The best strategy to prevent the spread of germs is to wash with conventional soap and water. The water doesn’t even have to be hot – it is the mechanical force (the act of scrubbing) that eliminates harmful bacterial. For effective cleansing, 30 seconds of scrubbing is usually sufficient.
If you have questions about this or any other health-related topic, you are welcome to contact or stop by South Tampa Immediate Care. We provide a range of preventive and urgent healthcare services, and we available to serve the immediate but non-emergency medical needs of you and your family during extended hours and on weekends.