Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water

Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water

By Danielle Mwende; KEPhSA Kenya

Every time you write a shopping list, one of the ‘must have’ item on it is bathing soap, wipes (for the ladies mostly) and hand sanitizers, right? Well, as you pop the extra dollar to buy these products in the belief of they will keep you safe from all bacteria, did you know that it is actually not necessary, and that you could be instead buying yourself a ticket to even greater health risks?

Now, there has been a lot of talk on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the past few years. We know of the most common ways its spread is increased. For instance, the misuse of antibiotics – but did you know that those medicated soaps and wipes we use innocently also play a huge role in promoting the development of superbugs? Aha! That’s right. I know the irony in that. Now, let me explain.

One of the major components used in the manufacture of antibiotics is Triclosan, an antibiotic agent previously restricted to hospital use only, but was adopted by manufacturers of soaps and other home products in the 1990s. It became so popular that this industry ballooned to an estimated $1 billion thereafter. Dating as back as1978 however, the FDA had stated triclosan as not recognized to be safe and effective. Decades later nonetheless, it is still with us and widely incorporated in basic household products including cosmetics, toys and toothpastes.

So what makes this antibacterial agent harmful?

First of all, as stated, it promotes development of antibacterial resistance. Allison Aiello, an Epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health explained in a public press that, “Triclosan has a specific inhibitory target in bacteria similar to some antibiotics. When bacteria are exposed to triclosan for long periods of time, genetic mutations can arise. Some of these mutations endow the bacteria with resistance to isoniazid, an antibiotic used for treating tuberculosis, whereas other microbes can supercharge their efflux pumps—protein machines in the cell membrane that can spit out several types of antibiotics,” she noted. Now, think about it. When you happily think you’re protecting yourself from bacteria, what you’re actually doing is making them stronger. As a consequence, your body will have a harder time fighting the infections due to lack of an effective drug. Poor you, if your immune system is compromised and woo the old, it could easily become a death sentence for them.  Not only that, these antibiotics do not discriminate between the good bacteria in your body and the bad bacteria, and so they kill them all which is the main cause of many health problems to people.

Secondly, there is actually no proof that the antibacterial soaps are any more effective than traditional soaps. In 2015, the FDA demanded manufacturers show that their product is safe and more effective than simply washing with conventional soap and water, otherwise, their product should no longer be on the market shelves. About 75% of all antibacterial products use triclosan as an active ingredient and after a long research, there is no substantial evidence that triclosan provides any health benefits as compared to old fashioned soap. All the promise of protection is a marketing scam used by these industries. Did you also know that the most common infections we try to protect ourselves from like common colds and flu are actually viral and therefore you have no business trying to use antibacterial agents against them?

Not only that, but there is evidence that triclosan interferes with endocrine functions in the body, affecting the reproductive system and regulation of thyroid hormone due to its resemblance to the thyroid hormone. Hormone imbalances are responsible for problems like obesity, infertility and troubles sleeping as well. You might want to think twice about that.

Children exposed to triclosan for prolonged period have been found to have higher chances of developing allergies among other health problems, which has been linked to less exposure to bacteria, that are important for proper immune development and function. An interesting fact should also be that the triclosan is carcinogenic too.

Maybe if you knew that you actually have more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, which plays a critical role in keeping you healthy, you will consider going easy on them. There are many other options you can use to protect yourself. First of all, save up the extra dollar and use plain water and bar soap. It does as good a job as the medicated soaps, and even better too.

Happy bacteria preservation.



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