The Trouble with Antibacterial Soaps

I can tell that some of you aren’t convinced: What’s so bad about using antibacterial soaps? Maybe the best approach really is to kill everything, leaving a trail of sterility in your wake.

Triclosan is the antibacterial agent in antibacterial soaps. The Oxford journal Clinical Infectious Diseases had this to say about it in a recent study: “Soaps containing triclosan within the range of concentrations commonly used in the community setting (0.1%–0.45% wt/vol) were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands. Several laboratory studies demon­strated evidence of triclosan-adapted cross-resistance to antibiotics among different species of bacteria.”

Translation: They weren’t an improvement over traditional soap on killing bacteria, and several studies have shown that bacteria are adapting to the triclosan. We’re not killing them, just making them stronger.

And triclosan itself is no innocuous ingredient in these formulations. Smithsonian Magazine noted that triclosan seems to disrupt the body’s thyroid regulation. Children with long exposure to these soaps also have a greater chance of developing peanut allergies and hay fever because of lack of exposure to certain types of bacteria needed to build the immune system. Triclosan also gets into our bodies through the skin—it was found in the urine of 75 percent of people tested in a recent study. And, since triclosan is fat-soluble, it builds up in our fatty tissues.

Lastly, triclosan is bad for our wildlife friends. When it gets rinsed down the sink it winds up in streams and lakes where it interferes with algae’s ability to do photosynthesis.

So, for your sake and those around you, go green with your soap too.