Updated: Aug 4, 2019
This may sound unbelievable to most of the clean freaks, but no joke, if you are unaware of this biggest joke in the history of soap, read on to learn the facts and reasons why antibacterial soap (either in liquid or bar form) does more harm than good to both the nature and health. Rediscover the truth that washing with just plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.
1. Antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap
Several studies have looked into the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.
A study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that there was "no significant difference" and antimicrobial soap was "no more effective than plain soap" at preventing infectious illness.
Another study found that the incidence of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea did not differ significantly between households given plain soap compared with those given antibacterial soap.
An analysis about the effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk also discovered that the use of antibacterial soap showed “little” added benefit compared with the use of non-antibacterial soap.
As mentioned in an announcement of U.S Food & Drug Administration (FDA), research has produced no evidence that antibacterial soap provides any health benefits as compared to old-fashioned soap. This means that if you are washing your hands or body with antibacterial soap, you are exposing yourself and the environment to increased amounts of the chemicals used in the soap without any measurable benefit.
2. Antibacterial soap is bad for the environment
When an antibacterial soap is used, it doesn't just disappear down the drain. It gets into our environment and could have disastrous consequences. As Eco Watch reported, the antibacterial chemicals in soap aren't completely removed by wastewater treatment facilities. The chemicals get transferred into the ecosystem and could contaminate surface water.
The most common antibacterial additive found in consumer soaps is a compound called triclosan. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of triclosan as a pesticide! We highlighted some harmful effects of this chemical in our previous article - How Harmful Is Shower Gel? Now we are going to share more facts and data about the risks of using this chemical.
A Swiss company called Ciba-Geigy was the first to synthesise and patent triclosan in 1964, and, by 1970, it was in use around the world as a surgical scrub in hospitals. Today, it is estimated that 75% of antibacterial liquid soaps sold to consumers contains triclosan.
Research has shown that small quantities of the chemical can persist after treatment at sewage plants and disrupt algae's ability to perform photosynthesis. More evidences show that accumulation of triclosan in the environment negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. US Geological Survey (USGS) also frequently detected the chemical in streams and other bodies of water.
The chemical is fat-soluble and it builds up in fatty tissues. This raises a concern among scientists that it can biomagnify to a greater levels in the tissues of animals higher up the food chain, as the triclosan of all the plants and animals below them is concentrated. Evidence of this possibility turned up in 2009, when a survey of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of South Carolina and Florida found concerning levels of the chemical in their blood.
3. Antibacterial soap contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
As epidemiologist Allison Aiello explains to Scientific American, when bacteria are exposed to triclosan, they can undergo genetic mutations. These same mutations not only protect them from triclosan (or whatever other antibacterial product you are using), but can make them more difficult to kill with other antibiotics.
This is currently a huge problem in medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists it as one of the ten threats to global health in 2019. Several studies have hinted that triclosan is fueling the development of resistant bacteria. This article from Harvard University illustrates in detail how the phenomenon works.
4. Antibacterial soap disrupts hormones
Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way some hormones work in the body and raises potential concerns for the effects of use in humans.
A number of studies have found that, in rats, frogs and other animals, triclosan appears to interfere with the body's regulation of thyroid hormone, perhaps because it chemically resembles the hormone closely enough that it can bind to its receptor sites.
Studies done on cells and animals in labs suggest the chemical can impact hormone signalling and other biological processes.
All these findings give rise to the worries that the use of triclosan could lead to problems such as infertility, artificially-advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer.
5. Antibacterial soap increases risk of allergies
There are a lot of theories about why allergies are on the rise and one is that the overly-sanitised environment that we live in is harming the development of our immune system.
A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology supports this theory when it found that triclosan leads to food allergies among children, including peanut allergies.
Another study discovered that children with prolonged exposure to triclosan have a higher chance of developing hay fever.
6. Antibacterial soap impairs muscle function
The list of risks associated with triclosan goes on! A study, reported in Smithsonian Magazine, found that triclosan "hinders human muscle contractions at the cellular level and inhibits normal muscle functioning in both fish and mice." The researchers weren't even exposing cells to super-high dosages during the study. They used levels of triclosan similar to what we experience every day.
This is especially concerning given other findings that the chemical can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream more easily than originally thought.
7. Antibacterial soap may promote the growth of tumour and cancer
While both triclosan and triclocarban (another common ingredient in antibacterial products) persist in the environment and are a source of toxic and carcinogenic compounds including dioxins, chloroform, and chlorinated anilines, more and more scientists, medical doctors, and public health professionals are concerned about the continued widespread use of the chemicals in more than 2,000 consumer products. These products include soaps, toothpastes, detergents, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, toys, carpets, plastics, and paints.
Because of that, people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.
One reason why plain soap is still the best – Less is more
One of the main reasons why we are having a massive health problem on our hands is there are more and more harmful chemicals like triclosan get into the food and water systems. It seems like they already have gotten into our systems since studies found traces of triclosan in 97% of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75% of people tested!
So, it is rather obvious to spot the one solid reason why plain soap is still the best option as compared to antibacterial soap – the absence of harmful chemicals like triclosan.
Washing with plain soap and water has been shown to reduce bacterial presence on hands by 82%. Studies upon studies point to the beneficial health impacts of washing with just plain soap. Soap retains its place on the throne of personal care products with an amazingly simple two-fold effect: one chemical and one behavioral.
Clearly the chemical properties of plain soap and its tendency for increasing washing time are enough to dramatically increase the health of consumers without adding antibacterial compounds. Washing with plain soap will remain a cornerstone of public health and should continue to be a major part of your daily hygiene.
To really minimise, if not eliminate, your exposure to harmful chemicals, consider switching to non-toxic products now!
To find brands of soap that are transparent and do not use any harmful or questionable ingredients, reading and understanding the ingredients list on product labels is essential. Check out these 3 useful tools that can make your search for the safety information on product ingredients super fast and easy.