As usually happens with these kind of debates, there are two opposing
sides, with each presenting their own supporting evidence.
Pro Antibacterial Soap
Obviously the manufacturers are for it. I believe that the following
quotes are very carefully worded, and some reading between the lines
Soap and Detergent Association - Cleaning for Health
- Handwashing is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) as one of the most important means of preventing
germs from spreading.
- Washing hands with plain soap initially removes some germs, but
germs left on the hand can quickly regrow and multiply.
- Washing hands with an antibacterial soap results in reduced
bacterial growth on the skin than when washing with plain soap,
because a very small amount of the antibacterial ingredient remains on
the skin after rinsing to control the growth of bacteria.
Q. Is there a link between the use of antibacterial soaps and
increased resistance to antibiotics?
A. A group of experts convened by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration recently looked at this question and found no evidence
to support it. In fact, scientific studies have demonstrated the
beneficial role of antibacterial wash products in reducing the
transfer and incidence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals.
"In January 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convened
a panel of experts to review the scientific knowledge available on
this topic. The panel concluded that bacterial resistance due to
antibacterial wash products is currently not a public health concern.
To assure awareness of new developments, FDA recommended continued
monitoring of the situation."
"...There is no real-life evidence that antibacterial products ? as
they are normally used in hospitals, in food preparation and in
people?s homes ? contribute to bacterial resistance. While some
studies have shown that antibacterial ingredients may promote
resistant bacteria, these studies have been done under controlled
laboratory conditions that do not reflect what happens to bacteria
that consumers encounter in the real world."
Investigation of antibiotic and antibacterial agent cross-resistance
in target bacteria from homes of antibacterial product users and
Journal of Applied Microbiology Abstract
Scrub away! Antibacterial cleaning products don't breed stronger
bacteria, says study by BYU researcher
Anti Antibacterial Soap
"When overused, the relatively harsh detergent action of antibacterial
soaps leaves you vulnerable to open sores that can attract bacteria,
resulting in skin problems such as eczema, doctors said here at the
summer scientific meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
This begins a vicious cycle, whereby a person who develops hand
eczema or another form of dermatitis touches a surface, leaving
microscopic germs behind. Another person comes along, touches that
surface and he too can be infected with the bacteria, said Dr.
Marianne O?Donoghue, associate professor of dermatology at
Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke?s Medical Center in Chicago.
Similarly, bacteria can directly jump from a person with
dermatitis to an uninfected person when they shake hands, she said.
?There is nothing quite as good to spread bacteria as hand
eczema,? O?Donoghue said. "
"Dr. Eli Perencevich, a research fellow in infectious diseases at Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said he wishes people would
skip the antibacterial products altogether, pointing to lab studies
that link them to the emergence of superbugs.
?No one has ever been able to prove that using antibacterial soaps
meant that anyone was better off than those using standard soap,? said
Perencevich, who performed the recent soap survey.
?However, there are [lab] studies that suggest use of such products
kill off the sensitive bacteria, leaving [behind] hardier bacteria
such as E. Coli and staphylococcus aureus, which could be detrimental
to health,? said Perencevich."
"Researchers from Columbia University's School of Nursing conducted a
study for 12 months -- half of the households used plain soap and the
other half used antibacterial soap.... Bacterial counts on study
participants' hands were measured. Interestingly, those who washed
with antibacterial soap did not show an instant drop in the number of
bacteria on their hands. At the end of the year, both groups showed a
significant drop in bacterial counts on their hands, regardless of the
type of soap used."
"Most of the tests of antibacterial soaps measure, logically,
bacteria, but the typical infections we get at home aren't bacterial
-- they're viral. An antibacterial soap won't do anything about that.
Colds, influenza, many "stomach bugs" are caused by viruses.... Some
researchers have expressed concern that the normal "good" bacteria
that reside on our hands (just like in other parts of the body, such
as the intestine and the vagina) are being changed by the widespread
use of antibacterial soaps and that this could allow more dangerous
bacteria to emerge."
"Since 1960, the incidence of melanoma has increased dramatically in
Caucasians worldwide, and during the past decade has risen at a rate
of 6% a year in the USA. A hypothesis regarding this increased
incidence suggests that the prevalent use of antibacterial soaps that
contain photosensitizing compounds may be a risk factor for the
development of cutaneous malignant melanoma. These antibacterial soaps
were introduced in the 1960s and compounds with photosensitizing
properties are still present in various soaps throughout the
industrialized world. The use of these antibacterial soaps, in
combination with sun exposure, leads to free radical production in the
skin. These free radicals are hypothesized to cause damage to
melanocytes, leading to the development of melanoma. Various
epidemiological findings regarding melanoma are consistent with this
hypothesis. A significant reduction in the number of new cases of
melanoma could be achieved if this hypothesis is correct."
My personal thoughts
If people were getting sick at home, despite normal cleaning habits,
because of bacteria, then it would make sense to upgrade to
antibacterial cleansers. If this is not the case, then why worry?
It's quite easy to "not find a link" between a product and a problem,
and any such studies don't really prove much. There have been many
products that we were told were safe, only to find out years later
that they weren't. Given that bacterial resistance is a slow process,
it is quite hard to prove. However, it would be prudent to try and
avoid anything similar to the antibiotic debacle, in which it will
soon be healthier to not go to hospitals at all.
"The NEW YORK TIMES reported that 5% of people admitted to hospitals,
or about 1.8 million people per year, in the U.S. pick up an infection
"antibacterial soap" "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"
"antibacterial soap" Perencevich