We all know the importance of washing our hands to keep germs at bay and our immune systems going strong. But are all soaps created equal?
Antibacterial soap was was invented back in 1984, and is actually the combination of any soap product with added antimicrobial ingredients to kill off bacteria. Today, it’s tough to find a soap that doesn’t claim to be antibacterial.
Since their invention, health professionals and regular American folk alike have used this type of soap religiously to promote proper sanitation. But as with any promising product, people are always out for truth, which is when scientific studies prove valuable.
Of the studies on antibacterial soap, research has discovered that it may actually encourage the growth of “superbugs,” which are resistant to antimicrobial agents. This becomes an issue when these bacteria run rampant, transforming into a dangerous and life-threatening infection that available medication simply can’t treat.
Mr. Poshi and Mr. Divone created the first modern day antibacterial soap by adding a chemical called Triclosan to their soap. This is the very chemical that Dr. Stuart Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and a professor of molecular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, believes to be of great concern to human health.
“Triclosan creates an environment where the resistant, mutated bacteria are more likely to survive,” Levy said, who published a study on the germicide in the journal Nature.
And Charles Rock, a researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hosptial in Memphis, Tenn., who also published work in Nature about this issue last month, supports the resistance theory. “The use of Triclosan in these products will lead to the emergence of resistance,” he noted. “There is no strong rationale for [its] use.”
A study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy in September 2015 compared soap containing Triclosan with regular soap both in lab tests and on people’s hands, and found no difference between the two.
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Multiple other studies have found that using antibacterial soap when washing your hands doesn’t remove more bacteria or even prevent more illnesses than using regular soap — they simply work differently, with regular soap mechanically removing germs from your hands, and antibacterial soap containing chemicals that can kill bacteria or inhibit their growth.
Yet despite all the concern, the US Food and Drug Administration continued to deem it safe and effective — until now.
The FDA finally banned antibacterial soaps last Friday, claiming they are not better, cleaner, or safer than 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,” explained Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Centre for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In fact, some data suggest that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
The ban includes products containing Triclosan, which studies have found can increase bacterial antibiotic resistance, affect hormone regulation in animals and kill algae. According to Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist from the University of North Carolina who published a review on several studies of Triclosan tests, there is “extensive literature suggesting that Triclosan does not provide a benefit when used in a ‘real world’ setting compared to plain soap.”
Because Triclosan is now in countless products, research has discovered it was washing down drains and building up in lakes and streams. This news encouraged Minnesota to become the first state to ban the ingredient in 2014.
The FDA has also banned 18 other antibacterial ingredients like Triclosan in hopes that the chemicals will stop building up in the environment, and harming human health.
Below is the full list of banned ingredients:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye
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