Antibacterial soap may be worse for you than regular soap


According to a new study out of South Korea, antibacterial soap is just as effective as regular soap at killing germs, and could be harmful to your health. So goodbye forever, antibacterial soap. We’re done with this lie.

Researchers explain that the active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps, triclosan, does a better job of killing bacteria than regular soap— but only under very specific, unrealistic circumstances. Like, say, if you were to wash your hands for nine hours. If, however, you wash your hands with room temperature antibacterial soap for about 20 seconds, you may as well use regular soap. From the study, which appears in The Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy:

There was no significant difference (P > 0.05) in bactericidal activity between plain soap and antibacterial soap at either test temperature… These results suggest that although triclosan-containing soap does have antibacterial activity, the effects are not apparent during the short time required for hand washing.

To reach the conclusion, the scientists treated 20 strains of bacteria with regular soap and with antibacterial soap, which contained the maximum amount of triclosan allowed by the FDA, explains Newsweek. Both soaps killed the same amount of bacteria. They also instructed 16 subjects to wash their hands with both soaps and, again, found that both killed the same amount of germs.

Triclosan has been raising FDA eyebrows for years. This study was, indeed, prompted by the FDA’s 2013 call for antibacterial soap makers to prove their product more effective than regular soap. The FDA announced at the time:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections.

The FDA added that overuse of antibacterial soap might make people more vulnerable to germs:

Some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products—for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps)—could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.

And years ago, some feared that extensive use of antibacterial soap could help create “superbugs.” So we’ll stick to regular soap.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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