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Antibacterial Soap: Safe or Not?

By , Managing Editor
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Best Natural Soaps
1.The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Gel
2.The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray
3.Nubian Heritage Carrot & Pomegranate Soap
4.Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash

The word "antibacterial" can be found on the label of a number of products you may have in your home right now, including detergents, toothpastes and deodorants. The active ingredients in these products can also be added to clothing or toys to prevent contamination. But the most common of all is soap

There has been significant debate over the safety of these products, especially after long-term use, since washing our hands is key to preventing illness. Here's what you need to know. 

Antibacterial Soap vs. Regular Soap
According to Discovery Fit & Health, soap is made by combining an acid (fatty acids and triglycerides) and a base (sodium hydroxide), also known as alkali. The ingredients react to help them bind to dirt, oil and bacteria to remove them from surfaces like your skin. The most common antibacterial agents in these soaps are triclosan and triclocarban. According to a 2001 study published in the medical journal American Journal of Infection Control, 45 percent of all soaps (both liquid and bar soaps), contain these ingredients, comprising 76 percent of liquid soaps and 29 percent of bar soaps. Triclosan, by far the most popular, has been used for more than 30 years and can even be found in cosmetics. 

These types of cleansers need to remain on the surface for approximately two minutes to work effectively. Research has also shown antibacterial soap kills no more germs than standard soap. In fact, you may contract and harbor bacteria that are resistant to the antimicrobial agents in soap or end up removing good bacteria the body needs. In a 2010 article, Samuel S. Epstein of the University of Illinois School of Public Health warned triclosan can also make us more resistant to antibiotics as it can be absorbed into the skin and remains in the environment, contaminating water sources. 

As of 2010, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated triclosan doesn't show any health benefits over regular soap but there wasn't sufficient evidence at the time to recommend its removal from products. However, the organization is conducting a large review of triclosan and is expected to publish its findings this winter. 

Best Ingredients in Natural Soap
Other common ingredients in antibacterial soaps include alcohol and benzalkonium chloride. If you want to avoid those ingredients and triclosan, here's some alternatives to look for on the label:

  • Oils -- The oil found in the peels of citrus fruits can be effective cleansers. Oranges, grapefruits and lemons are commonly used. Olive, coconut, hemp and palm oil can also be found in natural soaps to help them lather, cleanse and moisturize. 
  • Herbs -- The scents of peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender are typically used in soaps. Their scents can be invigorating or relaxing and they can also have astringent and antioxidant benefits. Look for products that contain the natural oil of the herb or an extract instead of artificial ingredients.
  • Tocopherol -- This ingredient may sound like a chemical but it's actually the chemical compound found in vitamin E. Vitamin E is known to protect skin and moisturize it with antioxidant benefits as well.
  • Glycerine -- This humectant is added to soaps to help moisturize the skin to prevent a dry, tight or stripped feeling after cleansing. A natural soap will tend to have glycerine produced from vegetables. 
  • Tea Tree Oil -- This oil has many uses beyond aromatherapy and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Tea tree oil can be found in soaps and household cleaners or on its own and can be combined with additional ingredients to make your own cleansing formulas. 

Some key words to look for are also "paraben free," "pthalate free" or "SLS free" if you're looking to go natural. Aloe vera is also a common moisturizing ingredient to look for.

Washing Rules
We've all been told the best times to wash our hands, but a refresher never hurts. Hands should be washed before and after handling food, treating an injury, touching the eyes cleaning or using the bathroom. The Mayo Clinic recommends washing hands under running water with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds. Be sure to wash all areas of the hands and wrists and be sure to dry them with a clean towel or air dryer when possible. 

Let's face it, germs are everywhere in our world today. While it's best to do what we can to avoid them, our health should also be taken into consideration when choosing products to put on our bodies. While these ingredients haven't been determined to be harmful, research continues, so go natural for more worry-free washing.


Products you may like:

Reviva Labs Seaweed Soap  Reviva Labs Seaweed Soap 
Why you may like this product? This bar soap from Reviva Labs is made without animal fats for a completely vegetarian product. This soap is made with a base of coconut and palm oil and contains seaweed to improve skin tone and texture. No triclosan included.
Kiss My Face Organic Grapefruit & Bergamot Foaming Soap Refill  Kiss My Face Organic Grapefruit & Bergamot Foaming Soap Refill 
Why you may like this product? This hand soap from Kiss My Face is made without parabens and triclosan. It's a completely natural formula made with fruit oils to help cleanse and moisturize the skin while removing dirt, oil and bacteria.
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