Antibacterial soap is not better, cleaner, or safer, and you probably should stop using it

A new study has concluded that antibacterial soap is no better than regular soap. It adds to a quickly growing stack of research demonstrating that old-fashioned soap is just fine.

This new analysis compared soap containing triclosan (one of the most popular antibacterial ingredients) with regular soap both in lab tests and on people’s hands.

The researchers exposed people to a type of common bacteria than can infect those with weakened immune systems, then had them wash their hands with triclosan and regular soap. Surprise, surprise: They found no difference between the two soaps.

In lab tests, the researchers also exposed 20 different kinds of bacteria to triclosan soap to see if it could do any damage there. It took nine whole hours to show any antibacterial effects. While that was in test tubes, not on actual humans, that’s much longer than the 20 seconds the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you take to wash your hands.

This new study supports what multiple earlier studies have found: Handwashing with triclosan soap does not remove more bacteria or prevent more illnesses than washing with regular soap. They just work a little differently.

While regular soap works by mechanically removing germs from your hands, antibacterial soap contains chemicals that can kill bacteria or inhibit their growth. And apparently that old wash-off-the-germs method works just as well as kill-them-on-contact.

The US Food and Drug Administration first registered triclosan in 1969, and the chemical has been added to countless soaps, cosmetics and cleaning products since then.

But it turns out that triclosan soap is not just an equally effective replacement for ordinary soap — it may actually be worse than non-antibacterial varieties.

Studies have found that triclosan can increase bacterial antibiotic resistance, affect hormone regulation in animals and kill algae. The FDA proposed a rule in 2013 (that has not passed yet) that would require manufactures to show that their antibacterial soaps are safe and more effective than regular soap. If it passes, it will go into effect by 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In the meantime, triclosan is now in so many products that research has found it was washing down drains and building up in lakes and streams. That’s part of what prompted Minnesota to ban the ingredient in 2014, making it the first state to do so.

While more research is needed to determine triclosan’s safety in small doses, studies so far have shown that there’s no real advantage.

The new study “adds to the extensive literature suggesting that triclosan does not provide a benefit when used in a ‘real world’ setting compared to plain soap,” Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist from the University of North Carolina who has published a review on several studies of triclosan tests, told Chemistry World.

Regular soap is just as good, so lather up.

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