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You should really stop buying ‘antibacterial’ soaps

It's a total waste. (bigstock)

Stop buying antibacterial soap.


Just stop.

While I think it's ridiculous to demonize food additives because their names are long, or to market products as being "chemical free" (nothing is chemical free, unless you're buying dark matter and have also figured out what dark matter is and that it does not contain chemicals, in which case please call me) there are a couple products I feel comfortable vilifying, from a scientific standpoint. And soaps that use triclosan are at the top of the list.

[Don’t be a dummy: 'detoxes’ are a waste of time]

At face value, the promise of "antibacterial" soaps seems squeaky clean: Fewer bacteria means less chance of illness, right? Germs are gross.

Even if you buy into that -- which you shouldn't, because most of the bacteria you interact with are awesome -- triclosan is not the best. It's bad at its job and potentially bad for you, too.

A new study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that, under normal hand washing conditions, antibacterial soap wasn't any better at killing germs than regular soap. That's actually not news: In 2014, an analysis of all the available literature on triclosan concluded the exact same thing.

[These friendly food scientists want to make you feel good about eating chemicals]

Triclosan does work over time, especially if it can sit on a surface for hours. But you should still be wary of products that use the antibiotic -- even if they're not strictly for hand washing.

Some studies have suggested that triclosan might be dangerous, or even carcinogenic. The evidence on this still isn't conclusive, but the Food and Drug Administration has asked that companies who use the ingredient study its safety and efficacy more closely. Triclosan isn't useless everywhere: We know that its use in toothpaste helps prevent gum disease. But if it doesn't work as hand soap for typical consumers, it doesn't make sense for us to use it.

But we also know that triclosan isn't totally harmless -- even if it's not hurting you directly. See, all that triclosan you wash down the drain when you use it on your hands has to go somewhere. It ends up in the water, and in agricultural soil. Antibiotics -- ones we take orally and ones we slather on ourselves -- shouldn't be floating around our environment that way. There's evidence that this kind of pollution is helping to breed more aggressive, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So the next time you're shopping for hand soap, save some money and save the bacteria.

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