Can We Really Trust Antimicrobial Soaps?


Do Antimicrobial soaps and sanitizers do More Harm than Good?

Does it seem that this time of year (and increasingly all year long) more and more people are reaching for hand sanitizer?  The importance of properly washing your hands is undisputed, but what are you washing them with?

Scientists are increasingly concerned that a common anti-bacterial ingredient in antimicrobial soaps and sanitizers, called Triclosan, can harm people’s health.  Laboratory studies have found that it may disrupt hormones, interfere with muscle function and promote the growth of stronger bacteria – and other research suggests it is building up in the environment to the possible peril of wildlife.

What’s more, there is no evidence that hand-washing with soap containing Triclosan or other antimicrobial soap ingredients offers any health advantages over regular soap and water, according to advisory committees for the American Medical Association. and the US Food and Drug Administration.

antimicrobial soaps “Triclosan, is what we call a stupid use of a chemical,” said Dr. Sarah Janssen, a physician and senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and environmental advocacy group “It doesn’t work, it’s not safe and it is not being regulated.”

The nation’s main trade association for soap manufacturers the American Cleaning Institute, says Triclosan is effective against certain infectious bacteria and the health concerns are overblown.

Yet the FDA, which oversees the use of chemicals in food and drugs, has never completed a safety review and issue binding usage rules for Triclosan.  For nearly 40 years, manufacturers have been free to make and market products using the chemical even as evidence of potential health and environmental problems mounted.

Spurred by research results as well as lawsuits and petitions, the FDA, in 2010 agreed to take another look at Triclosan.  The US Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the chemicals use as a preservative and pesticide, also moved up a comprehensive re-evaluation to 2013, a decade ahead of schedule.

The FDA promised to publish a review based on recent science by spring 2011.  After missing that deadline, the agency set winter 2012 as the next target.  The agency now says it does not have a new target date, frustrating health and safety advocates.

Originally created for use in health care settings, Triclosan (and triclocarban used in solid soaps) has been added to dozens of consumer products, including body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, toys, clothing and yoga mats.  Currently the only Triclosan benefit recognized by the FDA is its ability to prevent gingivitis when added to tooth pastes.

Research completed in 2007 at the University of Michigan concluded that soaps and sanitizers containing Triclosan were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands.  Hand-washing works largely by dislodging and rinsing away bacteria and viruses on the skin rather than killing them.

These research studies add to the rising concerns of antibiotic overuse as well, because these antimicrobial soaps absorb into the skin and then the blood stream.  This contributes to antibiotic resistance and more dangerous strains of bacteria causing illnesses.

This is quite the opposite effect that people are looking for when trying to stay healthy.  Stop playing Russian roulette with what you’re putting on your skin and start getting  back to whats it’s really about……strengthening your immune system so you don’t have to feel like a helpless creature, “sanitizing” every time you come in contact with anything.


Lynne is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Therapeutic Massage and Ethics Educator with extensive study in preventative nutrition and physiology. For over 35 years, Lynne has helped thousands of people through consulting, seminars and writing.

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