Is Antibacterial Soap Actually Harmful?

Antibacterial soap may be harmful in the long run.
Hand washing cuts down on the spread of most viral stomach illnesses.
Overuse of antibacterial soaps may lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Antibacterial soap can often be found in liquid form.
A bar of antibacterial soap.
In most instances, antibacterial soap should not be used to cleanse delicate facial skin.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Antibacterial soap became popular in the 1990s, and many saw it as a way to avoid getting sick. With greater usage, scientists and medical practitioners began to question the benefits of using it, especially since it is now often added not only to hand soap, but to detergents, and other products.

One clear understanding is that antibacterial soap will not keep one from getting ill. Though it does kill most bacteria, it is ineffective against viruses. Washing the hands can cut down on viral spread, but if a child spends a day in a classroom with another child with a cold, even handwashing may not be enough, since many rhinoviruses are inhaled.

However, handwashing is especially important in cutting down on the spread of most viral stomach ailments, which are usually spread through improper toileting hygiene. Children and adults should always wash their hands prior to eating, and especially after using the bathroom.

Bacteria does indeed cause many stomach ailments, and most people believe that only antibacterial soap can protect them against these germs. In most cases, this is not true. Good handwashing practices with warm soap and water kills most bacteria.

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One concern about long-term use of antibacterial products like soap is that they may produce bacteria that are resistant to certain antibacterials. A stronger bacterium means the potential for making people sicker in the future, and having fewer cures to offer them. Another concern is that one of its main ingredients, triclosan, is now showing up in our water supply. Its presence has also been detected in human breast milk, and in oceans. This means we are all ingesting triclosan, with unknown future ramifications. So far scientists have not found a way to rid water sources of triclosan contamination.

While antibacterial soap in the home might cause a bit of extra protection against common household bacteria, it is not clear how much triclosan might ultimately affect bacteria in the wild, or in our bodies. Bacteria are a necessary part of every ecosystem. We have fantastic bacteria in our guts and on our skin that often kill fungus and actually make us function better. Large scale elimination of bacteria in the environment through triclosan could have ultimately devastating effects, and is more concerning since we cannot seem to get rid of it.

Lastly, many in the medical profession believe that young children need exposure to “normal” bacteria to build resistance against stronger bacterial. By having our children use antibacterial soap, we may in fact be contributing to future health problems for our kids.

Thus, antibacterial soap, though it seemed like such a good idea, may in fact be harmful in the long run. Many hospitals are now switching back to using regular soap, and are saving antibacterial handwashing for direct exposure to certain very harmful bacteria. Many medical experts now advise that people make the switch at home as well, to avoid unpredictable, and possibly damaging future consequences.

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Discuss this Article

anon276717
Post 8

Such utter foolishness: Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and other bacteriocidal processes that work by affecting the cellular makeup (like pasteurization of milk) but not to antibacterial agents like those found in hand soaps and external surface cleansers that, for the most part, change the environment where bacteria is present.

For instance, any kind of soap can be considered antibacterial because it emulsifies fat, thereby killing the bacterial (or fungal or viral for that matter) by basically making it unable to adhere to a surface. This article and the comments are uneducated pop science. I guess we should also never go into the sunlight since it also had antibacterial properties. Ludicrous.

anon244351
Post 7

FDA= Food and Drug Administration.

They provide us with unsafe products that get us addicted or ill, such as that pill for stopping smoking like chantix causing high suicide rates. or worse.

Antibacterial is fine for hospitals, etc., to protect staff from passing along some things (also why gloves are important).

But yes, kids should get down and dirty to help boost their immune systems.

How do you prevent a sickness? Get it and get your immune system used to it so it will help fight against it next time.

anon233592
Post 6

After reading this, I realized that antibacterial soap should be banished forever! My family is getting ill from this disgusting soap, but it does smell good!

anon163398
Post 5

the FDA wants people to get sick so they can get more money. It's unbelievable how much of that stuff kids use at school, not even asking parents for their permission. Could we give you child a pesticidal fruit, hormonal milk or hand sterilizer or an antibacterial soap? Since we ask about nuts, I teach sometimes and observe kids using hand sterilizers a couple times an hour. Crazy!

rallenwriter
Post 4

I agree, it's not like people need to be stocking up on those giant gallon-sized liquid antibacterial soap refills, but there's no reason to get rid of antibacterial soap altogether.

Moderation is key. Use your super foam antibacterial soap if you want to, but don't go overboard. Moderation.

CopperPipe
Post 3

@planch -- You're talking about Lever 2000 antibacterial soap. I agree with you on the antibacterial bath soap, but I don't think there's any problem with keeping a bottle of Dial antibacterial soap on your sink or keeping those antibacterial soap dispensers in schools and places like that -- I'd rather kill off bacteria in high traffic areas than take the risk.

Planch
Post 2

I'm so glad that you published this article. I think that people have gone way overboard with the whole antibacterial hand soap thing.

While hand washing is extremely important, I think that there's no need to shower our children in antibacterial lotion and soap at every opportunity.

Like you said, kids need to develop immune systems, and the only way to do that is by exposure. There's no need to try and put our kids in a little bubble of antibacterial liquid soap -- they need to be kids, run around, get dirty, and get sick.

I have heard that somebody even came out with antibacterial bath soap -- talk about unnecessary! It's no wonder we're getting super strains of MRSA and Staph!

anon7205
Post 1

The FDA is so funny.

Why do we have the FDA?

It must mean...well we can all figure out some things that "FDA" signifies.

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