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The Dirty Truth About Antibacterial Soap

The Dirty Truth About Antibacterial Soap

Often assumed by consumers to be the gold standard in hygiene, antibacterial soap has recently come under scrutiny from the US Food and Drug Administration. Finally!

The FDA has issued a proposal, still in its final stages, which will require makers of antibacterial soaps and cleansers to definitively demonstrate that their products not only work, but that they’re also, you know, actually safe to use. Apparently there is growing concern that these soaps, which contain a slew of nasty antibacterial chemicals, may do more harm than good when used on a daily basis.

“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,” explained a representative from the FDA in a statement made Monday. “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.”

Triclosan, an antibacterial agent and preservative, is a common ingredient in liquid antibacterial soaps. This despite the fact that it has long been considered a contributing factor in the dangerous rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. All across the world, these stronger super-bug bacterial strains are emerging as a serious public health threat, most likely as the result of overuse of chemicals such as triclosan.

But that’s not the only problem with triclosan. It’s also believed to irritate skin, alter development, affect reproduction and disrupt thyroid hormone function; it’s also possibly carcinogenic. Triclosan produces harmful toxins such as dioxin and chloroform when it reacts with other agents in the watershed, and therefore has far-reaching environmental consequences. Triclocarbon, a chemical pesticide used in antibacterial bar soaps, is closely related to triclosan and poses similar problems for both people and the planet.

Health and environmental issues aside, perhaps the most alarming revelation to come from the proposal was this: after 40 years of study, the FDA has concluded that there is no evidence to support the claim that antibacterial cleansers are more effective in preventing the spread of germs, as opposed to simple soap and water.

According to Stuart Levy MD, a professor and researcher at the Tufts University School of Medicine, “The FDA is finally making a judgment call here and asking industry to show us that these products are better than soap and water, and the data don’t substantiate that.”

Which is, you know, troubling.

Liquid hand sanitizers, sanitizing wipes, and antibacterial products used in health care facilities are mostly made up of alcohol or ethanol. These are generally recognized as safe, and will not be affected by the proposal.

Read more: Conscious Consumer, Environment, General Health, Health, Non-Toxic Cleaning, , , , , ,

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Sayward Rebhal

Sayward Rebhal is a writer, a mother, a mover and a maker. Author of the Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, Sayward also works as a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and blogs about all things "socially conscious, totally fabulous" at


+ add your own
12:32PM PDT on Oct 11, 2014

I discovered store brought soap is so toxic then I discovered a company that makes all natural soap . Here's their address No more toxins going into my body!

6:58PM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Thank you.

9:55AM PST on Jan 14, 2014

Thank you

3:20PM PST on Jan 13, 2014

While I admit to being a small germaphobe I stopped using anti-bacterial soaps long ago . they can cause more germs and ressistent bacteria. It's really the friction that cleans your hands and kills germs.

7:02AM PST on Jan 13, 2014

Both my Nan and my Mum swear that there is nothing better than hot water and plenty of soap to kill off germs, but I like to use antibacterial gel that you get in a bottle whenever possible, that they use in hospitals. It is most handy when there isn't any soap left in the dispenser in public toilets, and it makes my hands feel cleaner. I'm on the fence about the two. Thank you for sharing.

3:02PM PST on Jan 12, 2014

Thanks for sharing!

2:11PM PST on Jan 12, 2014

Have stopped using those a while ago, once learned , what's inside them... am either using Thieves handwash or a basic safe ,non paraben with essential oils added.

7:35PM PST on Jan 11, 2014

It's better to wash your hands properly, than use antibacterial soap that poisons our water supply and also gives people a false sense of security in the cleanliness of their hands!

7:27PM PST on Jan 11, 2014

Thank you.

8:46AM PST on Jan 11, 2014

Don't really use the antibacterial bars, but do use the liquid.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Yeah and how did they test this - on animals? Oh, so that'll be really reliable then.

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