antimicrobial soaps and body washes: no better than soap and water for household use | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Still Using Antimicrobial (Antibacterial) Soaps?

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It seems like a good idea: “antimicrobial” soap!

There's also antimicrobial body wash, toothpaste, and household cleaning products that promise to kill all manner of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, a few of which cause human illnesses.

Americans are exposed to 2.2 million pounds of antimicrobial agents in soaps and body washes each year. Yet there’s no scientific evidence that outside of healthcare settings antimicrobial products offer any more protection against disease than ordinary soap and water.

What’s worse, studies suggest that the antimicrobial chemicals in these products may themselves cause harm to humans, animals, and the environment.

Although studies have not yet confirmed this conclusively, antimicrobial personal-care products may even boost antibiotic resistance, a threat the World Health Organization calls “so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine. A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—is a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

Last year the federal Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule change that would require all consumer antiseptic soaps and body washes containing antimicrobal ingredients to develop data that support the safety of antimicrobial agents and demonstrate a clinical benefit from their use in consumer wash products compared with plain soap and water.

Minnesota has already banned products containing the common antibacterial triclosan, present in more than 2,000 personal-care and household products. Public health officials there recommend using non-antimicrobial liquid soaps, stating that bar soaps can harbor germs.

Maybe it’s time to print Minnesota’s hand-washing poster and hang it in a prominent location in your home and office.

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