Hand washing is important to prevent disease. Many consumers purchase antibacterial soaps thinking that these products will be more effective than regular soap. However, this is not necessarily the case, according to a 2007 study conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor by epidemiologist Allison Aiello comparing antibacterial soaps with regular soap. Potential drawbacks exist regarding the use of antibacterial soap, so consider these before using these soaps.
As of 2010, the antibacterial ingredient triclosan has been in use for about 30 years in products ranging from soaps and toothpastes to cutting boards and socks. However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, or FDA, is planning to review its use in 2010 because there are concerns that it might promote drug-resistant bacteria and that it might harm wildlife after being washed down drains, according to a 2010 article by Jill U. Adams published in the Los Angeles Times.
Popular antibacterial soaps for use in homes contain any number of active ingredients. Although triclosan is common, some of these soaps contain alcohol, benzalkonium chloride, chlorhexidine gluconate or parachlorometaxylenol, or PCMX as antibacterial agents, according to the FDA. These ingredients are meant to kill the germs on your hands.
Regular soaps get rid of harmful bacteria and dirt through the physical process of washing the hands without the addition of antibacterial ingredients. The bacteria get washed off the hands and go down the drain.
A 2005 review by the FDA of the research on whether antibacterial soaps are better than regular soaps came to the conclusion that none of the studies showed a benefit to using antibacterial soaps. There is no proof that washing with these soaps lowers infections or disease transmissions over washing with regular soaps.
Theories as to why this is the case include the fact that many common illnesses are viral, and thus not affected by antibacterial ingredients. Another theory is that the levels of antibacterial ingredients in products made for home use is much lower than in those made for hospital use, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Triclosan can enter the body through the skin, according to the Los Angeles Times, which is concerning since animal studies have shown this chemical to act as an endocrine disruptor. This is part of the reason the FDA is reviewing the safety of triclosan in 2010, although there haven't been any studies showing adverse health effects in humans.
Many experts admit that antibacterial soaps do not actually remove more bacteria than regular soap, according to an article by Maggie Fox published by Reuters in 2010. Because of the risk of resistant bacteria increasing, it is better if use is restricted to hospital settings and not routinely used by consumers, according to Dr. David Pegues, the director of the UCLA infections disease program.