I'm a germophobe and always use antibacterial soaps at home as well as hand sanitizer when I'm out of the house. Is it okay for me to use these products?

January 19, 2017

Germophobe, eh? Well, you and Donald Trump have something in common.

You may have recently read that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. has banned 19 ingredients found in over-the-counter antibacterial (also called antimicrobial or antiseptic) soaps and washes. The ban includes commonly found ingredients triclosan, povidone-iodine, and hexylresorcinol. While many people think that using antibacterial soap will lower their risk of becoming sick or spreading germs, the FDA found that there’s no evidence showing that using soaps or washes with these ingredients reduces the risk of illness more than proper hand washing with plain soap and water.

There are also concerns that antibacterial soaps can cause harm, such as:

  • Antibacterial soaps washed down the drain interfere with waste-water treatment and purification.
  • Overexposure of bacteria to antibacterial soaps can cause mutations that make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
  • Antibacterial products don't discriminate between the good and the bad bacteria and we could be eliminating good bacteria that helps us stay healthy.

Antibacterial products were originally developed to be used in hospitals and other health care settings to prevent the spread of bacteria between patients and protect health care workers. And that’s still where they’re most effective.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, on the other hand, do have a place when soap and water is not available. But for it to be effective, hand sanitizers are rubbed on and left on the skin – not washed off – and must be used in sufficient quantity to cover every surface of your hands (between fingers, under nails, etc.). So, if you are going to use hand sanitizer because water and soap is not available, be sure to use enough of it – the small amount dispensed by most pocket-sized hand-sanitizer bottles is generally not sufficient, making this option less effective than hand washing.

Hand washing with good ol’ soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infections as you are physically removing dirt, germs, and dead cells. But over-washing isn’t good either as it can dry out your skin causing it to crack. Those cracks can in turn harbour germs. A good rule is to always wash after using the bathroom, before eating or preparing food, and after being with someone who's ill, particularly if they have a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection.

It’s that simple.