Changing to non-antibacterial soap was easier than I thought
By Mary Wade Triplett
I thought, “You really get me, Monongalia County Health Department.” A building with hand-washing capabilities upon entry is right up my alley.
Ever since I worked at an office that required a code to enter, I have thought about germs and doors and other surfaces. Especially when I saw a sick and sniffling co-worker as he used what I imagined were his not-so-clean fingers to press the numbers to open the door.
That also happened to be a year in which the flu season was expected to be worse than usual, which heightened my growing obsession to keep my hands as clean as possible, especially after touching potentially icky surfaces.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I re-thought my soap, however. Concerns about bacteria resistance came to light, with data showing that this resistance may have an impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments such as antibiotics. Resistance to antibiotics already is growing through overuse. I didn’t want to add to the problem.
It seems silly now, but it wasn’t an easy change. With some items, I am very brand-loyal and the soap I had been using for years was no different.
Plus, I had to admit that the idea that it was labeled “antibacterial”—meaning it contained ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban purported to fight bacteria—held some appeal and made me think I was getting cleaner. And less germy.
But as bacteria resistance grew as a topic of conversation, I decided I needed to take action. Plus, whatever effect antibacterial soap may or may not have on your hands, it does not fight viruses such as colds and influenza.
I started small, changing my bar soap that I kept in the tub. After a while, I realized it was time to make the switch that would really count—the liquid soap used for hand-washing.
I wasn’t as vigilant as I like to think I am, however, and just recently when my husband and I were shopping, he noticed that the dishwashing detergent we had been using was antibacterial. I probably would have thought that was overkill even back in the day when I purchased antibacterial bath and hand soap. I had selected it solely because I liked the scent. Luckily, I was able to buy the same brand without the antibacterial ingredients.
And I am here to live to tell about it. I’ve had no ill effects from not using antibacterial soap. Now, regulation is catching up to this thinking. More than a year ago, after conducting research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a ruling that soap companies could no longer market washes containing 19 specific ingredients that contributed to their antibacterial nature.
The ruling also reiterated that washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. That’s especially important as flu season approaches. Of course, you still should get a flu vaccine, but there are additional steps to take in order to remain healthy as well. Keeping your hands clean and keeping your hands away from your face are two of the most simple and important daily habits you can step up to keep the flu away from you.
And while we all think we pretty much know how to wash our hands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a handy page on its website with tips. For instance, you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (some recommend for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, just in case you ever walk into a public restroom and hear that being recited quietly at the sink). The CDC also lists five steps: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse and Dry. There’s even a video and a link to the science of why hand-washing is so important.
If you do use antibacterial soap, consider making a change. It won’t kill you. In fact, the science shows regular soap is the better choice.