Why are antibacterial soaps being banned?

May 28, 2018
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We’ve all been taught to wash hands thoroughly using soap but it seems there is a debate about the soap we’re using and whether or not it is actually harming us.

It all boils down to this. There are two general types of molecules: polar (things that can be mixed into water, like sugar) and nonpolar (things that cannot be mixed into water, like oil). Soap molecules are amphipathic, meaning they have both polar and non-polar properties. This gives soap the ability to dissolve most types of molecules, making it easier to wash them off your hands.

In terms of illness-causing germs, which are mostly bacteria and viruses, soap has a two-fold effect: one chemical and one behavioural.

Firstly, the amphipathic nature of soap loosens the bacteria and viruses off your hands so they can be washed away more easily. Secondly, you tend to wash your hands for a longer period when using soap, because you try to rinse all of it away. Thus, regular soaps don’t necessarily kill bacteria and viruses as much as they simply help you wash them off your skin.

Antibacterial soaps have all the same properties as regular soap, but with an extra ingredient added that is intended to stop the bacteria remaining on your skin from replicating. The idea is that this additive will further protect the hand-washer from harmful bacteria as compared to regular soap. It is important to mention that these ingredients generally have no effect on viruses, so the focus is to reduce the risk from bacterial germs.

The most common antibacterial additive found in consumer hand soaps is a compound called triclosan. This is the culprit causing all the debate and wait for it – according to The Daily Mail:

• Antibacterial ingredient triclosan is found in soap, toothpaste and children’s toys (!!)
• British scientists found that the chemical could cause resistance to antibiotics
• Chemical could cause bacteria to become immune to quinolones, research finds
• Quinolones are antibiotics used to treat urinary tract infections and pneumonia

Long story short, triclosan could be causing antibiotic resistance and fuelling the spread of superbugs. Little wonder then that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have banned antibacterial soaps. Maybe it’s time to start allowing our bodies to build up immunity against regular germs and the good old fashioned soap and water hand wash is the way to go at home.

NOTE: The ban on triclosan does not include high risk areas like hospitals.

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