The Truth About Antibacterial Soap

Recent studies show that antibacterial soap might be harmful to your health.

Antibacterial Soap bottle

MYTH: Antibacterial soap is the most effective way to kill bacteria and prevent disease.

FACT: University of Michigan researchers have found that antibacterial (also referred to as antimicrobial) soaps are no better at germ removal or disease prevention than ordinary soap and water. Further research at Columbia University showed that people who use antibacterial soaps are no healthier than those who don’t.

But that’s not all. The active ingredient in antibacterial soaps (a synthetic chemical called triclosan) may actually be harmful to your health. Triclosan may disrupt normal endocrine (hormonal) function — “particularly thyroid and sex hormones,” says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, staff scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that works to protect public health and the environment. Overuse of triclosan has also been implicated in the rise of “superbugs,” or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Superbugs are uniquely dangerous, confirms Sutton, because “they don’t just resist triclosan, but a broad array of antibiotics.”

Sutton advises people to avoid triclosan whenever possible. “We can’t always control what soaps are provided in public places, so some exposure is inevitable,” she says. But always opt for plain soap and water at home: You’ll kill the germs without the unhealthy consequences.

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