Antibacterial Soaps:
No health benefits, and risky to boot

UPdate Fall 2008

Antibacterial soaps have no health benefits over plain soaps, according to a new study by University of Michigan public health professor Allison Aiello, Ph.D. Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky is the first comprehensive study to test whether antibacterial soaps sold for home use are more effective than plain soaps in removing bacteria and preventing infectious disease.

The short answer is – NO and NO.

Dr. Aiello and her team found that washing hands with a consumer antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap. They also found that antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands than plain soaps.

“ The soaps containing triclosan used in the community setting are no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms, as well as reducing bacteria on the hands,” Aiello’s report states.

It’s bad enough that consumer anti-bacterial soaps don’t do what they claim to protect health. These soaps also have health risks. Aiello reports that because of the way triclosan, the main active ingredient in many antibacterial soaps, reacts in the cells, it may cause some bacteria to become resistant to commonly used drugs such as amoxicillin.

The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria is responsible for an increasing number of hospitalizations, deaths, and school closures. Public health advocates are concerned over the overuse of antimicrobial products and antibiotics.

Triclosan is found in hundreds of common everyday products, including nearly half of all commercial soaps, especially liquid soaps. Triclosan is also an ingredient in deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, fabrics and plastics. Microban and Irgasan are other names for triclosan.

The study, “Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky?” appears in the August 2007 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration led a panel of experts and industry representatives to weigh and analyze different germ-killing methods. The panel found "no firm scientific evidence that the flood of antimicrobial products we observe has any discernible benefit over the use of regular soap and water."

Anti-bacterial soaps used in hospitals and other clinical settings contain higher concentrations of triclosan that those in consumer products, and may be more effective at reducing illness and bacteria in the hospital setting, according to the researchers.

Thanks to Beyond Pesticides

UPdate, Fall 2008, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia