Antibacterial Soaps Might Be Killing Your Skin, Instead of Protecting It may earn commission when you buy something through the links or banners on this page.

To stay healthy and not get sick, we wash our hands. But with what? Back in the day, we used good old soap and water. But when antibacterial soaps hit the market, they seemed like the better option. After all, they’re antibacterial. Just what you need, right? Wrong. Research is finding that these soaps are actually doing more harm than good. Here’s why.

The difference between regular soap and anti-bacterial soap

Antibacterial soaps contain chemical ingredients that are meant to help reduce and prevent bacterial infection. They’re marketed as being more powerful and more effective in fighting off bacteria than normal soap.

That’s because, up until 2016, most antibacterial soaps contained a chemical called triclosan. This ingredient is able to kill off a wider range of bacteria than regular soap. In fact, antibacterial soaps are so good at eradicating bacteria that the only thing that survives is antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

How is that possible?

The thing is, germs are smart. And according to Dr. Axe, “the more we expose germs to germ-fighting substances like antibiotics and antibacterial soaps, the better they adapt. Nature’s good at that.”

In short, triclosan has helped to allow the development of superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria that medications can’t wipe out.

In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 23,000 people die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.

Along with contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, triclosan is also responsible for other negative health concerns, too.

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Triclosan and hormone function

According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), triclosan is an endocrine disruptor. This means it disrupts “thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, which can create a host of issues including early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer.”

And these are only some of its debilitating effects on health. In fact, this 2016 study added to the long list of triclosan’s bad qualities, and found that it can negatively affect “fetal development and growth.”

Triclosan and neurotoxins

If triclosan wasn’t bad enough, it can help a dangerous neurotoxin to form: dioxin. Here’s how it happens.

When triclosan goes down the drain, it actually gets past water treatment plans. This is how it makes its way into streams and natural water sources.

While in the water, it reacts photochemically and this leads to the formation of the neurotoxin, dioxin.

This chemical is very harmful at high levels. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and also cause cancer.”

So, in trying to keep ourselves clean and safe with antibacterial soaps, we actually created an even bigger mess than when we started out. This isn’t the bright and shiny outcome that you want when it comes to germ-fighting cleaning agents.

And for that reason, the FDA banned triclosan along with related compounds back in 2016. However, triclosan is still allowed in hand sanitizers.

So, now that triclosan is banned, what kind of chemicals are in antibacterial soaps these days?

Three chemicals in antibacterial soaps

Instead of triclosan, the FDA is allowing three chemicals in its place. They are benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. They don’t sound very inviting, and unfortunately, they’re not all that great either.

Benzalkonium chloride is thought to be very dangerous for individuals who suffer from eczema. It’s also believed to have ties with allergy problems, too. Worst of all, like triclosan, it may lead to resistant forms of bacteria.

More research is necessary to understand just how good or bad benzethonium chloride is. However, we do know that it triggers allergies. And we should take notice that in Canada and Japan, this chemical is kept out of all cosmetic products.

Chloroxylenol triggers allergic reactions in humans and is highly toxic to cats. So, it begs the question why it’s introduced into soaps in the first place.

Even though triclosan is no longer used in antibacterial soaps, it’s clear that these three replacement chemicals still pose problems and potential threats to human health, as well as environmental concerns.

What makes it even worse is that even though antibacterial soaps are said to be better at protecting us than regular soap, they’re not.

Regular soap and water fights bacteria

The director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Janet Woodcock, said: “consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.”

Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.

So, consumers would do well to ignore the clever marketing and packaging on antibacterial soaps, wipes, sprays and all the rest. Instead, it’s probably a good idea to listen to this advice, from the FDA‘s 2016 statement, banning triclosan:

“Wash your hands with plain soap and water. That’s still one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs.”

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Hand washing tips that actually work

So, now that we know that triclosan and it’s three replacement don’t make us safer, and actually put us in even more danger, it’s time to cover some hygienic basics.

Like the FDA says, just use plain soap and water, but how exactly should we wash our hands for the best results?

If you use a bar of soap, it might carry bacteria in its wet soapy slime. So, before you wash your hands, run it under water to wash away any potential bacterial buildup. Otherwise, keep it in a dry place, rather than in a moist wet environment.

If you have the choice between a hot air dryer and paper towels, always opt for the paper towels. They have a lower risk of spreading bacteria compared to the air dry method, according to this research.

Finally, take your time, or at least 20 seconds to lather your hands with soap before rinsing off with water. (That’s about as long as the “Happy Birthday” song takes to sing.) Doing this ensures that you remove the most bacteria as possible.

We all want to be safe from illness and enjoy good health. Avoiding harmful antibacterial soaps, and using plain soap and water can help you do that.

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