May 29, 2014 3:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Common sense tells us washing our hands with antibacterial soap is better than washing our hands with regular soap. Or is it?

Evidence suggests that not only are antibacterial soaps being overused to ill effect, but they simply don’t do what they claim to do. It may be worth washing your hands of antibacterial soaps for good, and of their possibly harmful chemical, triclosan, a common ingredient in soaps, deodorants and even toothpaste.

Minnesota is taking the first step, banning sales of soaps and cleaners that contain triclosan. A new law that will take effect there Jan. 1, 2017, is the first statewide ban in the nation, and other states are expected to follow.

Some manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, have already begun or plan to remove the chemical from their products.

What’s Wrong With Triclosan?

Animal studies have indicated that triclosan may interfere with hormone production, though its effects on humans are not known. The U.S. Food and Administration’s stance is that “triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans” but continues to review available evidence. Increasing levels of triclosan are being detected in plant, animal and ocean life.

While these findings are worrisome, Brian Ely, DO, a board-certified family medicine physician at University of Utah Health’s South Jordan Health Center, says they are not the most concerning problem surrounding triclosan and antibacterial soaps.

“Bacterial resistance is the biggest issue for humans,” he explains.

When a drug, like triclosan, is used in abundance, people’s resistance to bacteria occurs at a faster rate. The threat of widespread, drug-resistant illness becomes more prevalent. So the population’s efforts to stay healthy may do just the opposite in the long term.

Soap and Water Works

Furthermore, signs point to the fact that antibacterial soap simply doesn’t work better than regular soap to prevent the spread of disease. The FDA says in a statement, “Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.”

Ely agrees. “Washing hands with soap and water is just as beneficial,” he says.

But do more than simply rinse your hands. Lather up for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing all surfaces of the hands and fingers. Teach young children to sing a song, like “Happy Birthday,” to ensure they have washed for enough time. Then rinse the hands thoroughly, and do not touch germy surfaces after washing. Use a paper towel to turn off faucets and open doors instead.

How often should you wash your hands? Many adults and children don’t wash their hands frequently enough. You should wash your hands any time you handle food, use the bathroom, clean a wound, or care for a sick person.

antibacterial soap hand washing

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