Soap, Plain & Antibacterial

Soap, Plain & Antibacterial

Over-the-counter antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps and, in fact, may render some common antibiotics less effective against certain bacteria, says SPH epidemiologist Allison Aiello. In the first known comprehensive analysis of whether antibacterial soaps work better than plain soaps, Aiello and her team found that washing hands with an antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap.

Moreover, antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands during washing than plain soaps. In fact, because of the way the main active ingredient—triclosan—in many antibacterial soaps inhibits bacterial growth, it may cause some bacteria to become resistant to commonly used drugs such as amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin. “What it means for consumers is that we need to be aware of what’s in the products,” Aiello says.

She and her team believe government regulators should evaluate antibacterial product claims and advertising, and the researchers encourage further studies. Other hygiene and cleaning products on the market contain active ingredients, such as alcohol or bleach, that are capable of killing not only bacteria but also viruses. Aiello’s team did not study those products, and those ingredients are not at issue. —Laura Bailey

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.