Watch How You Wash: The Risks of Antibacterial Soap Overuse
Winter is the season for germ fighting and much hand washing. Many families rely on antibacterial soaps to combat winter illnesses. But in some cases, too much of a good thing can actually be bad for you — and antibacterial soaps can fall into that category. You may think you are doing your family a favor by keeping antibacterial soaps at every sink in the house. However, antibacterials may not be the best way to fight germs on dirty little hands.
How do antibacterial soaps work?
Antibacterial soaps primarily contain a germ-fighting ingredient called triclosan, which targets a specific bacterial gene. But these soaps may also kill bacteria that are helpful to the body when it comes to fighting off illnesses.
Scientists are growing concerned that bacteria resistant to triclosan may develop. On the other hand, triclosan manufacturers point to its 30 years of use in healthcare settings. No evidence of bacterial resistance has been found, they say.
Tips to keeping little hands clean
As scientists continue to research the safety of consumer antibacterial, consider these points:
- Welcome some germs. Babies need to be exposed to germs in their first year. That’s when they develop the antibodies necessary to fight infection throughout life. If you overuse antibacterials, you may eliminate this needed exposure. Some experts believe the increase in kids’ allergies and asthma may actually be a result of living in “too clean” an environment.
- Don’t stop washing. Hand washing is an important habit for you and your children. Wash hands after using the toilet and handling diapers, and before handling food, eating and feeding children. Teach your kids the same habits.
- The dish on soap. A study found that dishwashing soap was in fact more effective than antibacterial soap in killing the bacteria that causes respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the virus known to cause bronchitis and pneumonia.
- The evidence is plain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, washing your hands in warm water with plain soap for about 10 seconds will remove most bacteria.
Proper handwashing techniques
When it comes to handwashing, many people believe they already have the know-how. Here is a refresher course in the ABCs of handwashing. Make sure you teach your kids the right way to wash:
- Wet hands under warm water.
- Soap up your hands and get a good lather going.
- Work the lather on all parts of the hands, including in between the fingers.
- Keep washing for at least 10 to 15 seconds. You can instruct your kids to sing the ABCs or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” while they wash to make sure they have done it long enough.
- Rinse hands under warm water and dry with a towel or paper towel. Use the towel to turn off the faucet.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: December 2012