The Burning Question: Is It Safe to Use Antibacterial Soap?

Experts weigh in on whether the cleansing product is really healthy for you.


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YES: It can be helpful, if used in moderation.
Nancy Snyderman, MD
Chief medical editor for NBC News and author of Medical Myths that Can Kill You

There are times when it's crucial— say, when there's a risk of transferring bacteria from patient to patient, such as if you're a health-care worker, visiting the hospital, or at the doctor's office. It's also good to keep it in the kitchen for use after handling raw meat.

Its invention was a health breakthrough. The introduction of antibacterial soap was a wonderful step forward in public hygiene, especially in making hospitals and surgical suites safer, thanks to its ability to destroy health-endangering microbes.

It helps you keep clean, within reason. We've gone a little cuckoo with the idea that everything—from countertops to every inch of our body—has to be sterile. But if people feel safer using it to wash their hands, that's fine.

NO: Use regular soap instead.
Michael F. Roizen, MD
Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic and co-author of YOU: The Owner's Manual

Plain soap and water work just fine. Regular soap kills some bacteria by destroying their cell walls, and the rest are washed away. Removing germs is enough—you dont have to destroy them.

It could create drug-resistant bacteria. Most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, an antibiotic. When antibiotics are used often and unnecessarily, bacteria can become resistant to them, making it harder for us to fight diseases.

It may mess with your hormones. We dont yet know how triclosan affects us for sure; its safety is under Food and Drug Administration review. But animal studies suggest it may disrupt the endocrine system—possibly causing problems with development and reproduction.

The Takeaway:
Opt for regular soap and water, unless youre at a hospital or doctors office, where its best to use antibacterial soap. But if youre out and about and antibacterial soap is the only kind around, its fine to wash with it—and its worth keeping in the kitchen to use after handling raw meat.
Last Updated: October 12, 2010

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