Skip the antibacterial soap and use plain soap and water instead. Here’s why.
Choosing not to use antibacterial soap, in this day an age? With Covid, germs, bacteria, viruses… the spreading of disease?
There’s a reason behind my “madness.” My decision is backed by science.
Antibacterial soaps target bacteria, not viruses such as the flu. Viruses cause greater widespread illness (as we’ve seen with the Covid pandemic). So, using all these antibacterial products in the hope of preventing the spread of viruses may not be that effective, and can be causing more harm to our bodies than we realise.
But, antibacterial soap is more effective, right?
You would think, but actually this is not entirely true. According to the FDA, it was reported that there was no added benefit to using antibacterial soaps over plain soap and water for illness prevention or cleanliness:
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.
Note: The FDA writes that, “This does not apply to hand sanitizers or hand wipes. It also does not apply to antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.“
There are some serious and important risks to think about before using these types of products.
Disrupts the Gut Microbiome
Fun fact: The body is made up of more bacterial cells than human cells! According to Wellness Mama:
The body has 10x the number of bacterial cells as human cells.
Our gut is home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) microorganisms. But these microbes aren’t just laying low and passively living out their lives. On the contrary, according to Chris Kresser:
They have a profound impact on our health. Within the GI tract, gut microbes promote peristalsis (the movement of food through the intestines), protect against infection, produce vitamins, and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal mucus layer.
Killing “99.9% of germs” may sound good, but do 99.9% of those germs need to be killed? When it comes to our microbiome, cleaner isn’t always better.
It’s said that our current generation has around one-third less variety of gut bacteria compared to our parents and grandparents generations.
According to Bio-K+;
Researchers looking at the gut microbiome of children with allergy versus without, noted that the intestinal flora of allergic children showed the presence of aerobic bacteria, coliforms and Staphylococcus, while children without showed the presence of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria spp. It is believed that these latter bacteria species prime our immune system, and protect our gut mucosal integrity, which in turn help prevent atopic diseases and other immune-related conditions.
This sterilisation of gut flora could be why we’re seeing a correlation between children with higher levels of triclosan or similar chemicals having a higher risk of peanut allergies, hay fever or other life-threatening allergies.
Furthermore, Bio-K+ go on to talk about;
The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ (first proposed in 1989) is the idea that the decline in our exposure to microbes, due to clean water and food, sanitization, antibiotics, harsh environmental cleaning products, urban living and birth practices is a significant factor in the increasing prevalence of atopic diseases like dermatitis, allergy, and asthma.
Just to be clear, many of these practices, like clean drinking water and access to antibiotics, have brought so many benefits with them, such as preventing infectious diseases.
It’s our reduced exposure to non-pathogenic organisms (i.e. certain bacteria that do not cause harm to us) that has put us at risk.
In our haste to use anything and everything antibacterial, we’ve reduced the natural contact our immune system would have with these microbes, contact that’s necessary for the body to develop natural immunities and antibodies to these pathogens, that ultimately keep us well.
Superbugs & Resistant Bacteria
Antibacterial products like soaps are believed to be even more problematic, as researchers now suspect they may play a part in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (superbugs). As quoted in the Daily Mail;
Researchers found that triclosan, a chemical found in soap, toothpaste and cleaning products, could be making bacteria more immune to antibiotics.
Researchers studying the stomach bug E. coli in the lab found that triclosan could cause antibiotic resistance via a phenomenon known as ‘cross-resistance’.
Cross-resistance is a term used to describe how exposure to one substance can cause bacteria to become immune to a similar substance that it hasn’t encountered before.
Researchers discovered that bacteria exposed to triclosan may also evolve resistance to quinolones.
Quinolones kill bacteria by targeting a chemical involved with DNA replication.
When a bacterial cell divides into two, a copy of its DNA is made to pass on to the new daughter cell.
Quinolones stop DNA from being replicated, which causes the bacteria to cease dividing and die off.
Bugs can evade the antibiotics by evolving new mutations which stop quinolones from destroying its DNA.
Note: Quinolones are a common antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections, sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Risk of Infection
A few years ago, I developed a skin infection that just popped up out of the blue (I was quite run-down at the time). I was determined to heal it naturally rather than go straight for the antibiotics, as I knew that skin infections were becoming more and more difficult to treat using antibiotics, due to antibiotic resistance.
The use of certain antibacterial products containing triclosan may actually increase the risk of S. aureus (staph) bacteria build-up in the nose and other parts of the body.
According to Healthline;
Researchers from the University of Michigan found triclosan in human nasal secretions (snot), which could put people at an increased risk of S. aureus infection.
Researchers weren’t surprised to find triclosan in human nasal secretions because other studies had already found the chemical in human urine, blood plasma, and breast milk. “However what was surprising was our data suggesting triclosan may be influencing the microbes that live in the nose, specifically S. aureus,” said study co-author Blaise Boles, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
Boles and his team found that triclosan can promote the binding of S. aureus to host proteins found in the nose—such as collagen, fibronectin, and keratin—essentially offering a home for the infection.
Triclosan doesn’t just stay on your skin, it’s absorbed by the body and can disrupt important systems like hormonal function. Research shows that triclosan can interfere with hormones such as oestrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones. Studies show that triclosan can in fact reduce levels of thyroid hormones in the body, which could potentially lead to more severe problems like infertility, artificially-advanced early puberty, obesity and several cancers.
The widespread use of antibacterial chemicals has resulted in these compounds ending up in the water system. From there, this water is treated then released out into streams, rivers, and the ocean. Studies show that small amounts of triclosan can remain even after treatment at sewage plants, with the result that these chemicals are being found in streams and waterways right across the globe.
Algae, in particular, is greatly affected by chemicals such as triclosan, which is having a flow-on effect, impacting many marine species, too:
Once in the environment, triclosan can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis.
The chemical is also fat-soluble—meaning that it builds up in fatty tissues—so scientists are concerned that it can biomagnify, appearing at 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 was turned up in 2009, when surveys of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of South Carolina and Florida found concerning levels of the chemical in their blood.
When it comes to germs, we’ve been trained to be a little over-cautious. It’s important for the immune system to come into contact with a wide variety of bacteria to strengthen and build immunity.
Though, for everyday life, regular soap and water works just fine.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
What soap do you use? Do you make your own, too? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Wells, Katie. (January 23, 2019). Why I DON’T Use Antibacterial Soap. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/24964/antibacterial-soap/
Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water. (September 2, 2016). FDA. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm378393.htm
Kresser, Chris. (March 16, 2019). 9 Steps to Perfect Health – #5: Heal Your Gut. Chris Kresser. Retrieved from https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-5-heal-your-gut/
Do Cleaning Products Alter the Gut Microbiome?. (September 26, 2018). Bio-K Plus. Retrieved from https://www.biokplus.com/blog/en_CA/gut-health/do-cleaning-products-alter-the-gut-microbiome
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Dunne, Daisy. (July 5, 2017). Common disinfectant found in soap and toothpaste could be causing antibiotic resistance. Daily Mail. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4664840/Soap-ingredient-causing-antibiotic-resistance.html
Lincoff, Nina. (April 10, 2014). Antibacterial Soaps Encourage MRSA Bacteria to Colonize Your Nose. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/antibacterial-soaps-encourage-mrsa-in-nose-041014#1
Is This Common Ingredient Throwing Off Your Hormones?. Body Ecology. Retrieved from https://bodyecology.com/articles/is-this-common-ingredient-throwing-off-your-hormones
Stromberg, Joseph. (January 3, 2014). Five Reasons Why You Should Probably Stop Using Antibacterial Soap. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-reasons-why-you-should-probably-stop-using-antibacterial-soap-180948078/
O’Malley, Erin, PA-C. (November 10, 2017). 5 Reasons to Stop Using Antibacterial Soaps. Cone Health Medical Group. Retrieved from https://www.conehealth.com/services/urgent-care/5-reasons-to-stop-using-antibacterial-soaps/
Duda, Kristina, RN. (Medically reviewed: April 17, 2020). The Hidden Risks of Antibacterial Soap. Very Well Health. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-problem-with-antibacterial-soap-4125914
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