Washing your hands, and teaching the kids to do it too, is just good practice. As a diligent parent, you’ve made sure to teach them to sing the ABCs twice so they scrub long enough, to use warm water, and to thoroughly rinse. All set, right?
But what kind of soap are you using? If, as many Americans believe, you think anti-bacterial soap is best, you might be doing more harm than good.
Sound ridiculous? Anti-bacterial soap seems like the ideal solution to fight off nasty germs that infiltrate everyday life. Why would a product designed to keep down the bugs be so bad? It has to do with the way anti-bacterial soaps work and the way those bacteria respond.
Anti-bacterial Soap Functions
Anti-bacterial soap functions by using antimicrobial agents. One of the most popular, triclosan, is found in nearly every anti-bacterial soap on the market. This is an important part of the problem. Anti-bacterial soaps are contributing to what is called antibiotic resistance. This is when bacteria adapt to the agents we use to try and keep them at bay. This makes them stronger and means even more products need to be created to fight them off.
Triclosan is not just in hand soap; it is in detergents, body washes, toothpaste, even makeup. Washing it down the drain as we do just adds to the problem. From sewers or septic tanks, it ends up in the environment, where even more bacteria can adapt resistance to it.
All of this over-use of antibacterial agents means the bacteria grow resistant to them and become harder to treat. As the bacteria get stronger, we develop ever-stronger anti-bacterial agents, but there may be a limit to how far we can go. That may mean getting sicker even as we try to fight the germs off.
Anti-bacterial soap also needs to be in contact with hands for nearly nine hours to be effective. So not only is it bad for the environment and your health, but it’s also not all that good at what it claims to do.
What should you use instead, then? Look for regular hand soap. Read labels carefully and make sure it is a non-antibacterial soap. Teach proper hand washing techniques and keep a balance when washing, because over-washed, dried out skin can become an infection point due to bleeding or rashes. Hand sanitizer is also probably best avoided unless there’s no option to wash hands for similar reasons.
Be mindful of your cleaning products and use them sparingly and only when needed, for example after handling raw meats or fish or before eating. If you have any concerns that an actual bacterial infection is occurring, it is best to speak with your doctor.