Crazy statement, huh? Choosing NOT to use antibacterial soap, especially in this day an age when we know all about germs, bacteria, spreading diseases, etc.
Trust me though, there’s method to my madness 😉
Antibacterial Soap’s More Effective, Right?
You would think, aye? But actually, this may not be entirely true. It was recently announced by the FDA that antibacterial soaps had no added benefit over plain soap and water in terms of cleanliness or prevention of illness, as explained in the report:
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.
Did you read that last part? The use of these products may actually have a negative impact on our health. Some serious and important risks to think about before using these types of products include:
Changes to the Body’s Microbiome
I am soooo fascinated by anything and everything to do with our gut, the bacteria/microbiome living within, and how it can impact almost every part of our health. How cool is this, our bodies are made up of more bacterial cells than human cells! (*cue mind blowing gasp*🤯). Our gut is home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (there’s that many zeros I lost count 😂 For those of you who are like me and look at that number and think … It’s 100 trillion) microorganisms. As it’s such a huge number, our brains can struggle to comprehend it, so to put it terms that make it easier to get our heads around, Chris Kresser explains it well by saying if you had 1 trillion dollar bills and laid them end-to-end, they would stretch from the Earth to the Sun AND back with plenty of miles to spare. Do that 100 times and you begin to get a vague idea of the enormous magnitude that is 100 trillion.
Killing 99% of germs may sound good, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself if 99% of those germs need to be killed? When it comes to our health and microbiome, cleaner isn’t always better.
Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical that can be found in many products like deodorants, toothpaste (which is why I make my own), antiperspirants, soaps, laundry detergents, and hand sanitisers. During a study, zebrafish were fed triclosan-laden food and the result was that their communities of gut microbes changed.
It is said that our current generation has 1/3 less variety of gut bacteria compared to those of our parents and grandparents generations.
This affect on gut bacteria may also be a factor in why research is showing how children who have a higher exposure to triclosan or similar chemicals tend to have a higher risk of hay fever and allergies. From this post:
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.
The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’, which was first proposed back in the late 1980s, talks about how the reduction in our exposure to microbes due to things like sanitisation, clean water and food, antibiotics, harsh environmental cleaning products, urban living and birth practices, may play a significant role in the growing prevalence of conditions such as dermatitis, allergies, and asthma.
Just to be clear, many of these practices, like clean drinking water and access to antibiotics, have brought so many benefits along with them, such as preventing infectious diseases. But it is our reduced exposure to non-pathogenic organisms (things like certain bacteria that don’t cause harm to us) that has put us at risk.
In our haste to use anything and everything antibacterial to help prevent us from getting sick, we may also be minimising the natural contact our immune system would have had with these microbes – contact that’s necessary in order for our bodies to develop natural immunities and antibodies to them that help keep us well.
Development of Resistant Bacteria
Antibacterial products like soaps are believed to be even more problematic than first thought as researchers are now suspecting that they may play a part in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (superbugs) that have the ability to cause significant harm to many on a large-scale. From this article:
Researchers found that triclosan, a chemical found in soap, toothpaste and cleaning products, could be making bacteria more immune to antibiotics.
Now researchers have found evidence that the chemical [triclosan] could be linked to an increase in antibiotic resistance among superbugs.
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.
But the researchers found that bacteria is able to evolve special defences to resist attack by quinolones.
Bugs can evade the antibiotics by evolving new mutations which stop quinolones from destroying its DNA.
Note: Just an FYI, so we’re all on the same page (in case you were like me and thought “what on earth are quinolones?”). Quinolones are a common antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections, sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Risk of Infection
A while back I developed a skin infection that kind of popped up out of the blue (I think it was because I was quite run-down at the time) and I was determined to heal it using natural remedies. But why I turned to natural solutions in the first place rather than antibiotics was because a lot of skin infections now are becoming more and more difficult to treat using antibiotics due to resistant bacteria.
In yet another study, researchers found that certain antibacterial products that contained the antimicrobial chemical, triclosan, may actually increase the risk of S. aureus (staph) infection.
Through inadvertently using triclosan in antibacterial products, this can lead to an increased build up of staph aureus bacteria in the nose and other parts of the body:
In a study published earlier this week in mBio, 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. The researchers found that rats exposed to triclosan are more susceptible to S. aureus nasal colonisation than those who were not exposed.
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.
“Nasal colonisation with S. aureus is important because those [who are] nasal colonised are at increased risk for infection,” Boles said.
Disruption of Hormones
The problem with antimicrobials is that in carrying out their job – killing microbes- they can disrupt certain systems in the body along the way, like the endocrine (hormone) system.
Triclosan doesn’t just stay on your skin, it’s absorbed by the body and can show up later in both breast milk and urine. Research shows that triclosan can interfere with hormones like oestrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones. Certain studies show that triclosan can actually reduce levels of thyroid hormones in the body, which could potentially lead to more severe problems like infertility, obesity and several cancers.
Impact on the Environment
Overuse of these antibacterial chemicals has taken its toll on our beautiful planet.
The widespread use of antibacterial chemicals, particularly in hand soaps, has resulted in these harmful compounds being washed down drains, flowing into the water system and out into the oceans, streams, rivers, etc. Studies show that small amounts of triclosan can remain even after treatment at sewage plants, and as a result, these chemicals are being found in streams and waterways across the world.
Algae in particular is dramatically affected by chemicals such as triclosan, which can cause a flow-on affect to occur, impacting many species of marine life in different ways:
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.
Action to Take
As a society we seem to be a little over-cautious when it comes to germs. It’s important for our immune systems to come into contact with a wide variety of bacteria to help it become stronger. But from the beginning, we put almost a “protective bubble” around our kids and keep them from having any contact with the outside world.
What’s helped me the most in avoiding antibacterial chemicals is making my own products, like soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. There are many studies now supporting the notion that regular soap and water works just as well as antibacterial soaps, so why not give plain soap and water a try and see how it goes.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products.
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What soap do you use? Do you make your own too? Share the recipe with me below! I love getting new ideas 😊
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
Henry, Alan. (January 14, 2014). Ask LH: Should I Stop Using Antibacterial Soaps?. Life Hacker. Retrieved from https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/01/whats-the-fuss-over-antibacterial-soaps-should-i-stop-using-one/
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/