It’s a clear no-go on those “antibacterial” soaps you see on people’s counters and sometimes in our schools. They are soon to vanish from stores. No good evidence the (typically liquid) soaps actually protect our family from bacterial infections better than washing with regular soap and water and there are some concerns the ingredients used to make the soap may pose risk. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a ban on chemicals/pesticides used in antibacterial soaps due to safety concerns, including two of the most commonly used ingredients: triclosan and triclocarban. Some of these antibacterial soaps will still be used in hospitals.
Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.” ~ Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation & Research
Some history: Back in 2013 the FDA asked companies that produce antibacterial soaps to prove that their products were more effective than basic soap and water. Turns out, they couldn’t (or didn’t) provide data to show that these products were safe for long-term use nor that they are more effective. We know anytime we add antibiotics into our environment. water, food or agriculture, they kill bacteria off so that bugs that are less treatable with medicines have an easier time surviving. The end result are so-called, “superbugs” or bacteria in our environment and thankfully, rarely in our bodies, that are difficult or impossible to treat. That’s a LOSE-LOSE for humans (and animals). Hence the new ban on these soaps. Companies now must comply with removing the chemicals within 1 year’s time, or take the products off the market. There are 3 chemicals used in some soaps still allowed (not included in the 19 ingredients listed in the FDA ban) that rarely may still be found.
Why We Don’t Want To Use “Antibiotic” Soap
Some bacteria are good (the ones that live in our guts and the ones that live on our skin, for example) and contribute to our microbiome. We want to preserve those as these bacteria protect us, help us break down food, and even support vitamin production. There is also some data that every course of antibiotics we ever take changes this microbiome and may have lasting and long-term effects including susceptibility to chronic disease.
So as part of our wellness relies on these “good” bacteria, part of human wellness also relies on effective antibiotics against the bad ones (for serious infections, surgery, when an immune system is compromised). Clearly, we only want to use antibiotics when necessary; if we overuse them we create environments where resistant bacteria thrive. Once that happens, we won’t be able to cure infections they cause.
What soap we use, what medicines we avoid, what medicines we use, what food we eat and how it’s raised (ideally without antibiotics) all change the game. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine and kill both good and bad bacteria on and in our bodies. Potentially the most shocking statistic I can share is that up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed. There are many experts and movements to reduce the use of unnecessary antibiotics in clinics and hospitals but also remember that the mass tonage of antibiotics used on the planet are in agriculture and when raising livestock.
Two Reminders For Using Soap And Hand Sanitizers
- Regular old soap and water will do the best job at cleaning our hands and protecting our families from disease. The new FDA regulations will get the soaps with unnecessary antibiotic ingredients off the shelves. Ultimately, they provided a false sense of security and have had the potential to mess up our environment. WIN!
- Gel hand sanitizers are okay: Don’t be nervous about continuing to use alcohol-based, gel hand sanitizers. Those are typically made with >60% alcohol and are not considered unsafe nor are they known to cause similar challenges with antibiotic resistance.
- FDA overview
- FDA press release
- Antibiotic Prescriptions for Children: 10 Common Questions Answered
- CDC Antibiotic Resistance
- Seattle Mama Doc Content on Antibiotics