Antibacterial Soap Is No Better than Plain Soap and Water...and May Be Harmful

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Dermatologist Kaleroy Papantoniou, MD with Advanced Dermatology PC Offers Tips on Effective Hand Washing

Dr. Kally Papantoniou

Plain soap and water will be adequate for healthy hygiene and will not pose the potential health risks that certain antibacterial cleansers can pose.

Your mother was right. Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection and illness. Why not then add an extra layer of protection by using an antibacterial soap that will keep you and your family even cleaner and reduce further the risk of getting sick? “It's understandable that consumers would expect antibacterial soaps and body washes to be more effective at preventing the spread of germs,” says Dr. Kaleroy Papantoniou of Advanced Dermatology,” but depending on the circumstances plain soap and water will be adequate for healthy hygiene and will not pose the potential health risks that certain antibacterial cleansers can pose.”

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that over-the-counter consumer antibacterial products containing certain active ingredients can no longer be marketed.* Manufacturers will have one year to comply with the ruling by removing products from the market or reformulating them to remove antibacterial active ingredients. “But no one should wait for the products to disappear from the shelves,” says Dr. Papantoniou. “There are enough reasons to stop using them right away.”

The rule applies to consumer products containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including the most commonly used ingredients – triclosan, which is used in liquid soaps, and triclocarban, which is used in bar soaps. Not only have manufacturers been unable to show that products with these ingredients are more effective than plain soap but their use may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, disrupt hormone regulation, upset the balance of the skin microbiome (the vast community of microbes that live on and in the skin), and harm the environment. The rule does not apply to consumer hand sanitizers or wipes or to antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.

Tips for Effective Hand washing
Hand washing is still one of the most effective things you can do to prevent the spread of infection and illness in any setting – in the home, in the workplace, in schools and childcare locations, and in healthcare facilities. Dr. Papantoniou offers these suggestions, based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When to wash your hands: Before, during, and after preparing food; before eating; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after treating a cut or wound; after using the toilet or changing diapers; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; after touching an animal; after touching garbage.

How to wash your hands: Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap; lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, including the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails; scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds; rinse well under clean, running water; dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water aren't available: Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. The alcohol in the sanitizer will quickly reduce bacteria and viruses but it is not as effective as washing if hands are visibly dirty or greasy and it will not remove pesticides or other materials from the hands.

To use sanitizer: Apply to the palm of one hand, rub your hands together, and rub the product over all surfaces of the hands and fingers until hands are dry.

“The bottom line is that keeping your hands clean reduces the spread of infection and illness,” says Dr. Papantoniou, “but there is no good evidence that antibacterial soaps and washes are any better than plain old soap and water and, even worse, they pose potential threats to your health and to the environment. So keep washing your hands but don't waste your money on fancy antibacterial products!”


Bio: Kaleroy Papantoniou, M.D., F.A.A.D. is board-certified in dermatology and specializes in all areas of medical dermatology for adults and children, the prevention and treatment of skin cancer, cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

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