The Dirty Side Of Antibacterial Soap

Regular soap may be a better option.

30/03/2017 1:31 PM IST | Updated 09/04/2017 10:54 AM IST
Getty Images

Recently, I was watching a TV show called Shark Tank. The show is about a bunch of entrepreneurs pitching their products to a few investors to try and get funding. One guy in particular caught my attention. His product was a natural soap. Part of his pitch was about how the chemicals in antibacterial soaps actually end up doing more harm than good. He got funding—and my attention. I did my research later, and it turns out, the guy had a point (and quite a good product too).

Several antibacterial soaps available in the market contain triclosan and triclocarban. Marketing of over-the-counter consumer wash products containing both chemicals was banned by the USFDA in September, 2016. Manufacturers have one year to remove them completely from their products. However, concerns about triclosan and triclocarban were raised even in 2010, and the USFDA actually issued a proposed rule in 2013. To their credit, manufacturers started phasing out the use of the chemicals in 2013 itself. However, it must be noted that this ban does not apply to hand sanitisers, antibacterial wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.

Despite the FDA ban, India, unfortunately has not followed suit and banned triclosan and triclocarban.

A 2011 study concluded that triclosan may negatively affect the immune system. Of course, this study was conducted on the basis of triclosan being an environmental toxicant, rather than a chemical used in personal care products. However, a 2012 study, which was conducted with regard to personal care products, concluded that triclosan may affect placental development and consequently, foetal growth.

A 2014 study, conducted to measure foetal exposure to triclosan and triclocarban in urban New York noted that both chemicals have the potential to cause endocrine disruptions as well as contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The study concluded by recommending further studies into the foetal exposure to triclosan and triclocarban, and adverse health effects.

Despite the FDA ban, India, unfortunately has not followed suit and banned triclosan and triclocarban. However, the Central Drug Standard and Control Organisation has decided to review whether their use poses a public health risk.

Given the popularity of antibacterial soaps and hand washes, and fact that there is enough evidence to show that triclosan and triclocarban can have some pretty serious side effects, I think that both chemicals should be removed from such products. In fact, Janet Woodcock, the Director of the USFDA's centre for drug evaluation and research said, "Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term." If that's the case, I think I will stick to regular soap and water! Be safe, stay healthy!

More On This Topic