Monday, September 28, 2015

Antibacterial Soaps Fail to Beat Plain Soap

Lab tests conducted by a team of Korean researchers revealed that when bacteria are exposed to the standard over-the-counter antibacterial ingredient known as triclosan for hours at a time, the antiseptic formulation is a more potent killer than plain soap.

The problem: People wash their hands for a matter of seconds, not hours. And in real-world tests, the research team found no evidence to suggest that normal hand-washing with antibacterial soap does any more to clean the hands than plain soap.

“[The] antiseptic effect of triclosan depends on its exposure concentration and time,” explained study co-author Min Suk Rhee, a professor in the department of biotechnology and the department of food bioscience and technology at the College of Life Sciences and Biotechnology at Korea University in Seoul.

But most people who wash their hands with antibacterial soap do so for less than 30 seconds, Rhee noted, using formulations containing less than 0.3% triclosan – the maximum allowed by law. And that combination, he said, is “not adequate for having an antibacterial effect.”

Rhee and his colleagues outline their findings in the September 16 issue of the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Triclosan is the antibacterial component of liquid soap. In bar formulation, it’s triclocarban, according the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These ingredients have been somewhat controversial. Some contend there is no scientific evidence to back up claims that these products are more effective than regular soap. Others have argued that these ingredients aren’t safe.

But there isn’t any proof that triclosan is unsafe, the FDA said. However, the FDA cautioned that animal studies have raised concerns that the antiseptic may interfere with normal hormonal regulation, or may contribute to antibiotic resistance.

To see if triclosan made a difference in controlling bacteria in the current study, investigators placed 20 strains of bacteria into laboratory test tubes. They exposed the test tubes to both plain soap and soap containing 0.3% triclosan. The tubes were preheated to mimic typical hand-washing temperatures.

When bacteria were continuously exposed to triclosan for very long periods of time – nine hours or more – the antiseptic demonstrated “significantly” stronger antibacterial properties, the researchers said.

However, lab exposure to just 10, 20 or 30 seconds of triclosan soap translated into no more antibacterial benefit than similar exposures to plain soap, the study revealed. A follow-up test involving 16 healthy adults who had their hands exposed to bacteria then washed with either the plain or anti-bacterial soap showed the difference between them was “non-significant.”

My Take:
I have long been concerned about the safety of these products. The animal studies on hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance were enough for me to avoid using antibacterial soap. If it’s no more effective than plain soap why take the risk?

The Bottom Line:
Please use plain soap, but wash your hands for 2 minutes, rubbing vigorously, as friction is the vital ingredient. When you visit someone in the hospital this is essential as the antibiotic resistant bacteria on all the surfaces you might touch can be life threatening. Finally, try to avoid touching elevator buttons, countertops and door knobs. Use a paper towel or even gloves like the hospital staff. I know it sounds paranoid, but I have had to treat several cases of MRSA and the healing process is difficult at best.

Source: September 17, 2015 National Institutes of Health

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