Looking for the best way to get clean hands? Put down the latest antibacterial chemical concoction (quickly!) and pick up a good old-fashioned bar of soap.
That's because, if anyone had any doubts previously, hand washing with soap and water is now proven to be the best way to get disease-causing viruses off of your hands, according to the largest, most comprehensive study ever done on the topic.
"We studied the efficacy of 14 different hand hygiene agents in reducing bacteria and viruses from the hands," said Emily E. Sickbert-Bennett, a public health epidemiologist with the University of North Carolina Health Care System and the UNC School of Public Health.
While antibacteria soaps were best at ridding hands of bacteria, plain (non-antimicrobial) soap and water were most effective at removing viruses, which can sometimes be resistant to disinfectants but succumb to the physical act of washing hands. Further, the antibacterials can actually allow "superbacteria" to flourish and they contain a potentially toxic chemical, triclosan, both of which you'll read more about below.
The least effective "soap" according to the study? Waterless, alcohol-based "convenience" hand rubs.
The study is published in the March 2005 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.
Popular brands of soap can contain harsh synthetic chemicals that harm your health and contribute to the spread of resistant "super germs."
All Soaps are Not Created Equal
So it turns out mom's advice to wash your hands with soap was right all along. But here's something that even your mother may not have known: All soaps are by no means the same, and you need to be very choosy and careful when picking one for you and yourr family.
Major Problems With Antibacterial Soaps
More than 75 percent of all liquid hand soaps and close to 30 percent of bar soaps in the United States contain antibacterial agents, according to a study co-authored by Eli Perencevich, M.D., a research fellow in infectious diseases at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Why is this a problem? It's because these soaps kill off typical bacteria, leaving room for mutated "superbacteria" to flourish. "These mutated bacteria get smart to antibacterial agents," says Dr. Perencevich, and ultimately more and more bacteria become resistant to the products that are supposed to be keeping us germ-free.
The Best Way to Wash Your Hands
The CDC recommends this four-step process to most effectively wash your hands:
First wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain.
Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.
Continue for 10-15 seconds or about the length of a little tune. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
Rinse well and dry your hands.
Furtermore, the active ingredient in many antibacterial soaps is triclosan. This chemical belongs to the chlorophenol class of chemicals, which are suspected of causing cancer in humans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, triclosan is a pesticide and was given high scores both as a human health risk and an environmental risk.
Antibacterial soaps are also unnecessarily harsh on your skin. "When overused, the relatively harsh detergent action of antibacterial soaps leaves you vulnerable to open sores that can attract bacteria, resulting in skin problems such as eczema," said doctors at a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
And that's not all. Says Dr. William Baugh, chief of dermatology at the Beaufort Naval Hospital in Beaufort, S.C., "Overuse of antibacterials is worse than frequent use of other soaps as chemicals in the detergents strip away the naturally protective fats and oils on the skin."
Along with all the potential risks, studies show that antibacterial soaps are no better at killing germs than regular soaps. Along with the study above, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found similar results.
"It makes you wonder why they call it antibacterial, because according to our research, it isn't any more so than plain soaps," said Elaine Larson, Ph.D., R.N., associate dean for research at the Columbia University School of Nursing, New York, the lead researcher of the NIH study. "We found antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps provide no added value over plain soap."
Problems With Commercial Soaps
Common soaps on the market contain many synthetic additives that can cause health problems. To get an idea of the additives in your "favorite" brand, we encourage you to check out the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep report.
They compared the ingredients of 7,500 personal care products with government, industry and academic lists of known and suspected chemical health hazards, and have developed an online rating system that tells you the relative health risk each product poses. On a scale of 0-10, with 10 posing the greatest health risk, here are EWG's ratings of some popular brands:
- Dial Antibacterial Hand Soap with Vitamin E Moisture Beads:
- Jergens Extra Moisturizing Hand Wash, Cherry Almond Scent:
- Fa Moisture Rich Antibacterial Hand Soap, Kiwi Mix:
- Softsoap Vitamins Liquid Hand Soap with Vitamin E Complex:
- Suave Naturals Bar Soap with Aloe Vera & Vitamin E, Lavender:
It can be difficult to find a truly pure soap these days, as even brands that are labeled "natural" can contain harmful synthetic ingredients.
That's why we've done our research and now offer you some of the purest and truly natural soaps and other personal cleansing products on the market - see the new line of Personal Care Products we have found! This includes an excellent Grime Bar, a truly safe vegan face wash, and more!
And keep watching for more as we are busy analyzing more products in this area that make "natural" claims to recommend and offer ONLY those that really live up to those claims!
Once you've found your favorite, pure soap to use, remember to wash your hands often. "Hand washing is the simplest, most effective thing people can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases," says Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the Hospital Infections Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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Medical News Today March 11, 2005
Infectious Diseases Society of America
The Dirt on Antibacterial Soaps
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hand Washing