Antibacterial soaps actually make you sick
If you woke up to a feeling that everything you believed is a lie, you’re not alone.
Over the weekend, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban of up to 19 chemicals commonly found in over-the-counter antibacterial soaps. Those 99 per cent of germs you thought you were killing? They’re actually still there. I feel your pain, fellow germaphobes, I really do.
The decision comes after the FDA put companies flogging antibacterial products on notice back in 2013, requesting that they produce evidence of their claims. And it seems as though the bacteria have come home to germinate.
In an official (and rather scathing) statement, the FDA stated that soaps containing triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other chemicals either failed to do what they claimed or that the risks of using these chemicals outweighed the potential benefits. Risks that sound pretty darn serious from fertility issues and hormone disruption in children to environmental impact.
It’s a move that’s been welcomed by many in the science and medical communities who have long argued that the unnecessary presence of the chemicals actually promoted drug-resistant infections.
Why are they there in the first place?
I’m the first one to admit that I’m a sucker for a gimmick. And according to dermatologist, Dr Andrew Miller that’s kind of what advertising and marketing teams did with the antibac movement.
“[Antibacterial soap] is all just clever marketing,” Dr Miller tells The Juice Daily.
“It’s an extraordinary paradox that preys on the insecurities of parents who just want to protect their children. We know that kids who grow up on farms or with pets have much lower instances of allergies and sensitives but yet we create these over-hygienic environments that only exacerbate the problem.”
One of the main chemicals targeted in the report, trisoclan, was first used in hospitals back in the ‘60s before it was quickly included into the skincare regimes of oily-skinned teens in the ’80s as a guaranteed way of clearing up their complexion. (Anyone who has ever suffered acne may recognise it as the active ingredient in their face and body wash.)
This isn’t to say trisoclan is the enemy – in fact, according to Dr Miller it remains one of the “most effective ways to treat acne.” The issue lies in the fact that companies started putting trace amounts of it, and other antimicrobials, into everything.
“You may have heard about the overuse of antibiotics,” says Miller.
“Well bacteria are now becoming resistant to antiseptic. The medical profession is partly to blame for this because we knew these products were useless and we didn’t say anything.”
In fact, in most over-the-counter products the amount of triclosan present isn’t actually high enough in concentration to kill off any bacteria on the skin, something Miller says makes them “designed to fail”. Instead, it’s helping them mutate faster.
Currently, there are three other ingredients that have questionable benefits and which antibac companies have been ordered to prove. These are: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol.
What the soap-makers say
Much like you would expect, the FDA’s findings have been met with some resistance from the American Cleaning Institute.
In a statement released in response to the ban, the ACI stated that “Antibacterial soaps are critical to public health because of the importance hand hygiene plays in the prevention of infection.”
“Washing the hands with an antiseptic soap can help reduce the risk of infection beyond that provided by washing with non-antibacterial soap and water.”
Plain old soap
But before you despair into a cloud of “what will I use during my weekly Silkwood shower now?”, representatives from the FDA have come up with a good alternative: wash your hands with soap. The same simple soap your great grandma would have used.
“Soap and water is still the best way to have bacteria break contact with the skin,” explains Miller.
Dr Theresa M. Michele from the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products agrees.
“Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” she said in a statement. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”
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