Have you ever looked at the active ingredients list on antibacterial hand soap and asked: Is any of this really necessary? Well, turns out that triclosan and 18 other ingredients are not only ineffective in consumer hand soaps, but may also pose a risk to your health and increase bacterial resistance to medical treatments such as antibiotics, according to the United States Federal Food and Drug ruling covering consumer hand soap that will go into effect in 2017.
The FDA ruling officially confirms what many of us already suspected, and it gives credibility to organic hand soap. As research shows, there is no significant advantage to personal hygiene when washing with antibacterial hand soap. In a 2015 study, strains of bacteria were exposed to antibacterial hand soap with the maximum triclosan content allowed by law (0.3%), and plain soap. The results showed that only after 9 hours did antibacterial hand soap become more effective than plain soap.
American Cleaning Institute Versus the FDA
In the official FDA press release issued following the ruling, officials questioned the continued use of antibacterial marketing practices and their benefit, given how little information manufacturers were able to provide. Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products expressed concern over misplaced confidence on the side of consumers:
There’s no data demonstrating that these drugs provide additional protection from diseases and infections. Using these products might give people a false sense of security. If you use these products because you think they protect you more than soap and water, that’s not correct. If you use them because of how they feel, there are many other products that have similar formulations but won’t expose your family to unnecessary chemicals.
The American Cleaning Institute, an advocate for the U.S. cleaning products industry, issued a statement defending these products, stating:
Consumer antibacterial soaps and washes continue to be safe and effective products for millions of people every single day. The FDA already has in its hands data that shows the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. Manufacturers are continuing their work to provide even more science and research to fill data gaps identified by FDA.
In order to stop the FDA’s decision, companies that the ACI represents were required to submit evidence that shows the effectiveness of ingredients in soaps which make up the “antibacterial labeling.”
The Benefits of Organic Hand Soap
Human skin contains bacteria called skin flora. Similar to gut flora which lives in the intestinal tract and contributes to the breaking down of food for nutrients, skin flora can offer several benefits through chemical secretion that may prevent foreign bacteria from landing on skin and stimulating the skin’s natural immune defense.
When we use harsh chemicals that promise to kill up to 99.9% of bacteria we may only be killing beneficial bacteria, leaving behind harmful, chemical-resistant bacteria or viruses. Instead, what we want to do is gently lift away foreign dirt and oils that may also hold harmful bacteria or viruses. Cleaning our hands this way will also remove dead skin cells without drying the healthy skin underneath, leaving the soft feeling people desire.
Hand soaps of all types come in liquid and bar form. Natural or organic soap products are traditionally made solely from lye, known as sodium hydroxide for hard soap, or potassium hydroxide for soft soap. During saponification the oil molecules have combined and chemically changed into soap and glycerin making them a highly effective and safe cleaning agent. When complemented with coconut oil, lavender, or aloe vera to name a few, you both clean your hands and may improve the quality of your skin.
What Are Some Triclosan Health Risks?
Triclosan which was first introduced in the U.S., during 1969 for use in hospitals as a disinfectant. Despite the FDA ruling, the ban on these ingredients does not extend to hospitals. The reason why? Antibacterial products are primarily used to protect the patients rather than just the user, whereas consumer antiseptics are generally applied to protect the user. Triclosan levels in use at hospitals may be significantly higher than allowed in consumer products, and therefore may prove to be more effective at destroying harmful microbes when showering or washing hands.
However, studies like those out of the University of California, San Francisco questioned this practice. During a study of 38 doctors and nurses at two hospitals, high levels of triclosan were found in their urine, with much of the research pointing to hand soap as the primary cause of exposure.
Other ongoing research is looking into the effect on breast milk, urine and plasma. In addition to growing concerns over endocrine disruption and the body’s ability to regulate hormones, as well as the human reproductive system, these effects are also likely to be present in the water supply, affecting algae and some fish.
What Are Companies Doing in Response?
In 2013 the FDA first announced it would begin the process to rule on triclosan and other products making up antibacterial soap. Seeing the writing on the wall, companies began to introduce new ingredients into their products such as benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. Companies will have to develop, plan, and submit new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients, though the FDA is currently not considering a ban on these compounds.
Here is the complete list of ingredients that were banned by the FDA for use in hand soap:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye
How Do I Stay Healthy Without Antibacterial Hand Soap?
Wash your hands with plain or organic hand soaps and avoid touching your eyes, lips, or nose just like before! A healthy immune system will take care of the rest. We tend to shy away from dirt and dislike feeling dirty, so many of us end up using abrasive chemicals and scrub at our skin. This removes more than just bacteria, including important oils and minerals that keep skin soft and looking healthy. While you can wash regularly to keep that clean feeling, there are many options available made from natural ingredients to leave skin hydrated and healthy looking.
Everyday Shea Foaming Hand Soap Lavender by Alaffia is both affordable and easy on the hands! The handcrafted paraben-free liquid hand soap is made with unrefined Certified Fair Trade shea butter and virgin coconut oil. Pump dispenser once or twice and gently work into a lather, rinse, and feel refreshed!
Grandmas Lye Soap Bar by Remwood Products does not contain detergents or additives, rather natural glycerin which is retained during manufacturing. The pure soap bar can be used on hands and other parts of the body, even areas with dry, itchy skin, psoriasis, eczema, or acne.