antibacterial soap

Could Antibacterial Soap Be More Harmful Than Helpful?

Why antibacterial soap has so many enemies and what the FDA, the European Union and others are saying about it.

Antibacterial soaps commonly contain triclosan, a chemical that may be creating havoc with our health and the environment.

Antibacterial soap background

Invented in the 1970’s as a surgical scrub, over time marketers and chemists expanded the use of triclosan to include consumer products such as toothpaste, antibacterial soap, cutting boards and toys. Today the chemical can be found in the blood, urine and breast milk of about 75% of Americans.

Why people have a problem with it

antibacterial soap

The wide use of the chemical drew the attention of consumer advocacy groups and regulatory agencies that became concerned about triclosan, noting that:

  • Triclosan leaks into the environment and causes issues with wildlife and nature. Freshwater lakes are increasingly contaminated with the chemical
  • The chemical has has bio-accumulative effects, which means that it accumulates in your system faster than it flushes out 
  • Its an endocrine disruptor that can be dangerous to pregnant human women 
  • Over time using antibacterial soap may contribute to bacteriological resistance to antibiotics, according to the FDA

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science finds that triclosan causes muscle impairments, and that by reducing contractions in both cardiac and skeletal muscles, it has the potential to contribute to heart disease and heart failure (especially to those already at risk).[contextly_auto_sidebar]

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, triclosan also poses the risk of hormone disruption, effecting hormone concentrations and interrupting receptors. The existence of triclosan-resistant bacteria could also link to the resistance to antibiotics, with which the chemical is closely linked.

Who’s doing what about antibacterial soap

Meanwhile, the FDA has studied triclosan but found no evidence to prove that it is hazardous to humans, according to its triclosan web page for consumers. At the same time, the FDA site notes concern about the chemical and is committed to examining new evidence as measurement technologies and techniques improve.

Is antibiotic soap more effective than plain old soap and water?

Perhaps the most basic unanswered question about antibacterial soap is whether it even works. So far the FDA has found no evidence that there is any benefit to using antibiotic soap compared to traditional soap and water.

antibacterial soap

Today the FDA is collecting information from manufacturers of antibiotic soaps to see if they can prove that the soaps are more effective than soap and water. If not, regulators may require that soaps be reformulated so they no longer contain triclosan.


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Jennifer Markert