What’s the Deal with Anti-Bacterial Soap?


America has declared war, and it’s not against high-waisted jeans. (Though on that subject, consider me General Patton.) Germs are the new enemy and we’re engaged in hand-to-hand combat with them. Recall the sight of Britney Spears traipsing across gas station bathrooms barefoot, which horrified people more than her shaved head or marriage to K-Fed. Americans hate germs, and anti-bacterial gels, sprays, soaps and wipes are the new norm for most handbags.

And I’m not saying people are wrong. If we’re going to go full neurotic pancakes – I have a reoccurring nightmare where I am in a toilet stall too small and fall onto the uncovered toilet, which looks clean enough. I don’t like the germs either and was as pleased as anyone when anti-bacterial products appeared on the market a few years ago.

But are anti-bacterial products really the best thing for America since the “pie versus cupcake” wars? I don’t think there’s a doctor out there that will tell you to forgo washing your hands, especially in times of serious health crisis. Hand washing is the first line of defense in staying healthy and keeping others the same. So yes, wash your hands and enjoy doing so. But if you are using anti-bacterial soaps, there are a couple points to consider.

First point – bacteria evolves. Experts point out that the over-consumption of anti-bacterial products is leading to strains of resistant bacteria. As Discovery Health reports, “by using more antibacterial products, people may encourage bacteria to evolve and become more virulent than they were before. Overusing antibacterial products is now a major point of study within the field of pharmacoepidemiology – the study of how people use medicines.”

Further, when you use anti-bacterial soaps or gels, a few bacteria may survive the first application. And then what happens is basically War of the Worlds meets your skin. Microbiologists report that this leaves a residual “soup” on your skin where only the strongest survive – and promptly mutate into resistant bacteria. Yes, it’s H.G. Wells’ classical tale but without Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. And also? It’s taking place in your pores.

Nonetheless, some of you may decide to keep using anti-bacterial soaps and gels. Hey, we don’t judge. But allow us to present our second point – there’s a lot of bad stuff in the traditional products. The old-standby, Purell, gets a moderate hazard rating from Skin Deep. It contains ingredients linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity and more. Many anti-bacterial products contain triclosan, which does most of the germ-slaying. Skin Deep rates this a high hazard due to various dangers. And the National Resources Defense Council recently filed a lawsuit against the FDA over triclosan and triclocarbon.

So if you’re going to buy anti-bacterial products, make sure they are free of triclosan – and while you’re reading labels, feel free to kick out toxic fragrances, alcohol, and parabens as well.

So what to buy? Luckily, there is a safer solution on the market. CleanWell’s All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Handsoap gets a very low hazard rating from Skin Deep. The product has a nice, light texture and a really pleasant natural scent. CleanWell offers the only all-natural antimicrobial on the market that is proven to kill 99.9 percent of all germs. (Apparently, it’s all in the thyme.) And they are sans tricoslan and other nefarious ingredients like benzalkonium chloride (linked to asthma among others,) alcohol, bleach and ammonia. It is also biodegradable and paraben free.

And the best bet? Considering just sticking to plain natural soap and water. It’s worked for centuries and who knows – it might even throw those mutant one percent bacteria off the chase.

FTC Compliant

Image: totalaldo

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.