Think Twice About Using Antibacterial Soap

Can a bar of soap get dirty? A rather silly question, but one I like to bring up in light-hearted conversations to see how people respond. Think about it.

If I were a gambling man (which I’m not), I’d bet that most folks, like me, don’t think twice about the soap we use to wash our hands. Haven’t you wondered what that mystery foam is in your office bathrooms? How about the hot pink one that oozes from the walls of public restrooms? Is this regular soap? Antibacterial?

Soap has always been regarded as a good thing, something that keeps us clean and protected from dangerous germs. Recently, I was challenged by this question over lunch with some friends, “Is the soap we use on a daily basis safe for me and my family?”

One of my pals mentioned that he had read an article about the dangers of using antibacterial soap and how scientists have discovered that the common chemical ingredient triclosan may actually do more harm than good to our bodies. Soap that’s bad for you? Say it isn’t so!

The lunch discussion ended on a somewhat sarcastic note with everyone half joking that seemingly everything in the world seems to be bad for your health, including the walk back to the office. I laughed, but I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about all the great smelling Bath & Body Works Antibacterial Hand Soaps we have at every sink in our house.

When I returned to my desk, I did a Google search for “antibacterial soap good bad.”

The news stories that came up were mostly negative. A Los Angeles Times story titled, “Is triclosan dangerous? Yes, study finds — in mice, fish” written on August 13, 2012, caught my attention. The opening paragraph read:

Presumably, when people buy antibacterial soap, the idea is to kill bad germs and promote health. But over the years, scientists and public health advocates have worried that triclosan, a common chemical in antibacterial soap, may actually do more harm than good. The latest warnings come from a team of researchers who ran a series of tests that showed that triclosan hindered muscle performance in isolated cells in animals. Writing Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, UC Davis toxicologist Isaac Pessah and colleagues reported that exposure to the chemical in doses similar to what a person or animal might encounter in everyday life, impaired isolated muscle cells’ability to contract; decreased heart function and grip strength in mice; and slowed swimming activity in fathead minnows.

Yowser! Another story in the Denver Post a month later also echoed the dangers of using antibacterial soap and suggested hand washing with regular soap and water was just as effective. But the story also mentions the “data isn’t definitive.”

So what’s a consumer to do? I went home and checked the label on those Bath & Body Work antibacterial soap bottles. And sure enough, the active ingredient in there is triclosan.

I’m inclined to switch back to regular soap and water…after our stash of beautifully scented soaps is gone.

Nathan Kam is a Honolulu public-relations executive, husband and a proud daddy of two incredible kids, Ensen (5) and Avery (2). He enjoys cooking, gardening, traveling, blogging and golfing. You can reach him via emailTwitterFacebookLinkedIn or via his personal Kam Family Blog.