A New Study Confirms Antibacterial Soap Is Doing Us No Good

A few years ago antibacterial soap was all the rage, but gradually research has emerged saying that not only does antibacterial soap have several drawbacks, it may be no better for us than conventional soap. With new research seeming to confirm these results, is it time to put that antibacterial soap away for good?

There’s already been quite a bit of controversy over a key ingredient in many antibacterial soaps known as triclosan, which also features in products like some toothpastes and other cosmetics. Other research has shown that the chemical may be increasing antibiotic resistance, could be detrimental to the environment, and animal studies have shown it may even contribute to or exacerbate hormone problems and cancer cell proliferation.

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Though its important to recognize those findings are not concrete and need context, this is something that prompted a safety review by the FDA which ended in further regulations of triclosan-containing products, and led some states, for example Minnesota, to ban sale of products containing triclosan altogether.

But what about effectiveness? Just how much better are antibacterial soaps containing triclosan than their counterparts? Well, there is evidence that other products like toothpaste containing triclosan are at least better for cleaning our teeth. Is the same true for soaps?

Previous research has said not, but a new and more wide-ranging study took this investigation a step further. The research, which is published this month in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, saw scientists test regular and antibacterial soap against 20 different types of bacteria in a lab setting, including Escherichia coli, Listeria and Salmonella.

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The researchers found that across all the bacteria that were tested, antibacterial soaps containing triclosan provided no significant benefit. The only time a benefit did become apparent was if the bacteria were left in the soaps for around nine hours, at which point the antibacterial soaps appeared to kill far more microbes than their non-triclosan containing counterparts.

As the researchers simulated hand washing during the lab tests, they were fairly confident of their results. However, they then took 16 adults who hadn’t used antibacterial soaps in over a week in order to test the results in a more real-world experiment. The subjects were asked to wash their hands using the soaps for 30 seconds. The water they used was carefully controlled to be 104F as this is the standard temperature for “hot water.”

All the antibacterial soap used by the subjects had a concentration of triclosan of 0.3 percent, which is classed as the maximum allowed under EU regulations, as well as those in China, Canada and Australia. Again, no significant benefits were evidenced.

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Min Suk Rhee, of Korea University in Seoul and lead researcher on this project, says this research, when combined with other research of its kind, should mean that antibacterial products are reevaluated and any claims made on advertising that suggest greater bacteria killing power should be curtailed because it’s likely this messaging is misleading customers into believing they are paying for a product that offers them more protective value than they are really getting.

“This study shows that presence of antiseptic ingredients … in soap does not always guarantee higher anti-microbial efficacy during hand washing,” Rhee is quoted as saying. ”If the manufacturer would like to advertise the antiseptic efficacy of their products, they should supply scientific evidence to support the claims.”
The researchers do point out that antibacterial soap might be effective if given enough time to act, noting the nine-hour window they observed after which the soap was much more effective than regular soap. As such, it may be that antibacterial soap could still have its uses. However, it clearly doesn’t have the same effects for general use.

What has emerged over the past few years is that the soap isn’t nearly as important as how you actually wash your hands.

From Care 2

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