The Skinny on Suds

Washing Hands

There are some bacteria, or germs, on our skin that are good. But there are others that can make us sick. That’s why it’s good to wash your hands often. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from harmful germs.


You may even go one step further by using antibacterial soap. Plain soap may be good, but antibacterial soap is better—right? Not so fast.


Antibacterial liquid hand soaps contain an ingredient called triclosan that isn’t found in plain soap. Triclosan is a chemical that may help reduce or prevent the spread of bacteria.


You would think that adding this to soap would provide even more protection against harmful germs. But it doesn’t seem to. In studies comparing the two, antibacterial soap was no better than plain soap in reducing or preventing illness.


So there is no real benefit to using antibacterial soap over plain soap. There may be some drawbacks, however.


  • Effects on Bacteria: The use of triclosan may play a role in making harmful bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This means that using these products may, in the long run, do more harm than good. When harmful bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, they are much harder to treat.


  • Effects on Hormones: Animal studies have shown that triclosan may also have an effect on hormones. It may change how hormones work in the body. That does not mean it would have a similar effect on humans. But it does raise the possibility.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working together to study triclosan more closely. At this time, it is not known to be harmful to humans. But as more is learned about this chemical, the rules that regulate its use in consumer products may change.


Right now the FDA allows triclosan in products like soap, toothpaste, and mouthwash. But those rules are under review. New guidelines are expected in 2016. The FDA may end up limiting the use of triclosan more strictly in consumer products. Or it may ban its use fully. For now, if you want to limit your contact, try switching to plain soap. You’ll get all of the germ-fighting effects, without any of the potential drawbacks.


If you’re wondering whether or not the soap you are using is antibacterial, check the label. Does it contain the word “antibacterial” on the label? You can also check to see if the soap contains a Drug Facts Label and if it lists triclosan.