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Why Avoid Anti-Bacterial Soaps?

Wooden brush, soap and waffle weave washcloth with lilies of the valley.There is reason to believe that the overuse of antibacterial soaps may be creating more problems than it solves. 

The popularity of antibacterial soaps seems to be based on the idea that all bacteria is "bad" for our skin and must be eliminated.

As a marketing tool, the threat of bacteria "invading" is very powerful, as is the idea that being "ultra clean" is healthier. But these perceptions are based on fear, not on reality.

A careful analysis of what actually happens when you use antibacterial soap is much more worrying. Triclosan, or similar ingredients actually kill the bacteria on your skin. That's a good thing, right?

Maybe not. Regular soap merely loosens bacteria and viruses, which are then washed off when you rinse and dry.

Many antibacterial soaps are labeled as 99% effective, meaning 1% of bacteria is resistant. Why is this worrisome?

The analogy of killing weeds in a garden is rather helpful:

In a garden all plants compete with one other for light, air, water and nutrients in order to grow. Some plants are helpful and some are harmful. Suppose we apply a weed-killer that will indiscriminately kill 99% of the plants? Suppose that the one plant which is resistant is poison ivy?

Suddenly, poison ivy has no competition, and our weed killer doesn't affect it. Of course, it spreads and takes over the garden

Bacteria on your skin are like that - some bacteria are good, and some bacteria are harmful. By killing 99% of the bacteria on our skin, we only guarantee no competition for the 1% which is immune to the antibacterial agent in our soap.

If that resistant bacteria is harmful, the only way to fight it is to use ever stronger antibacterial agents, which are also known as antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a huge problem today.

Plus, many people are allergic to ingredients in anti-bacterial soaps, or have become sensitized to them.

There is a place for antibacterial soaps - in hospitals, nursing homes and other places where sick and well people mingle frequently. But the use of antibacterial soaps at home is really unnecessary.

Simply by practicing good hand-washing techniques (Kindergartners learn to soap up and sing the "ABC" song once through before they rinse) we can keep hands clean, soft and healthy.

We do not have proof of a direct link between antibacterial soaps and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But why even use antibacterial soaps if we don't need them in the first place?