Newswise — Buyer beware: before you purchase antibacterial soap, you should know your soap may do more harm than good, says Peggy Edwards, chair of the department of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University's Doisy School of Allied Heath Professions.
What is dangerous about antibacterial soaps? Aren't soaps that kill bacteria good for us?
"That is a common misconception," Edwards says. "There is little supportive evidence that antibacterial products are effective in preventing illnesses."
There is growing support, however, that antibacterial products have adverse consequences. The most serious consequence, says Edwards, is that the overuse of consumer antibacterial products may make bacteria resistant to therapeutic antibiotics.
More than 45 percent of soaps contain antibacterial ingredients. And the options do not stop there. Cleaning products, laundry detergents, trash bags, and sponges are among the growing list of consumer antibacterial options. Edwards gives five reasons why consumers should avoid antibacterial products altogether.
1. Antibacterial products will not keep you healthier. "Antibacterial products are only effective in killing bacteria," Edwards said. "They do not prevent the spread of viral infections, which are responsible for a large percentage of contagious diseases such as the flu and colds."
2. Antibacterial products could make bacteria resistant to antibiotic medication. Unlike therapeutic antibiotics, household antibacterial products are used in low and unpredictable concentrations. When bacteria are exposed to low and infrequent dosages of antibacterial ingredients, they are more likely to form a resistance to the antibiotics, including the therapeutic antibiotics used in clinical settings to prevent the spread of infections and treat pathogenic bacterial infections, Edwards said.
3. Antibacterial products go somewhere after we wash them down the drain. The widespread use of these chemicals contributes to their presence in wastewater and ultimately in the environment. The effects of these chemicals on the environment have yet to be determined.
4. Antibacterial soaps give us a false sense of security. "You may think that by using antibacterial soap you can eliminate bacteria, but that simply is not the case," Edwards said. "Bacteria are everywhere, and most bacteria are not harmful." Good hand washing is still highly effective in removing bacteria, Edwards said.
5. Waterless sanitizers may be particularly dangerous. Alcohol is the ingredient used in waterless sanitizers. Because alcohol is flammable, it might not be appropriate for unsupervised use by young children.
It is important to note that the use of antibacterial wash products still has an important role in preventing nosocomial infections, which are infections that originate in hospitals. However in these areas their use is more carefully monitored and more judiciously applied.
"Certainly, more convincing evidence needs to be presented to warrant the risks involved," Edwards said. "Until then consumer use of antibacterial products should be limited."
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.