Plain Soap as Good as Antibacterial
Researchers Say Regular Soap Kills Germs as Well as Antibacterial Soap
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 17, 2007 -- Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain soap
and water for killing disease-causing germs, but the jury is still out on
whether they promote antibiotic resistance in users, a newly published research
Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health reviewed
27 studies examining the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial products
containing the active ingredient triclosan.
That includes most commercially available soaps, detergents and other
products with the word 'antibacterial' on their labels, with the notable
exception of alcohol-based hand gels.
Soaps containing triclosan at concentrations commonly seen in products sold
to the public were found to be no better for killing bacteria and preventing
infectious illness than soaps that did not contain triclosan.
"Antibacterial soaps do not provide a benefit above and beyond plain
soaps for generally healthy people living in the community," researcher
Allison Aiello, PhD, tells WebMD.
"Washing your hands is extremely important for preventing the spread of
infectious illness, especially at critical points like after using the toilet,
changing the baby, or handling raw foods. But consumers can't assume that
antibacterial soaps are better for this than other soaps."
Antibacterial Soap, Antibiotic Resistance
Along with University of Michigan colleagues Elaine Larson, RN, PhD, and
Stuart Levy, MD, Aiello has conducted some of the largest and most rigorously
designed studies examining the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial
Studies in their own laboratory first showed that triclosan can cause some
bacteria to become resistant to widely used antibiotics like amoxicillin, but
this has not been shown outside the lab.
In another of their studies, 238 families were told to either use
triclosan-containing cleaning and hygiene products for a year or similar
products without the antibacterial agent. Skin testing conducted before,
during, and after the intervention suggested that both cleansing regimens were
equally effective for killing germs.
There was also no evidence of an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria
on the hands of people who washed with the antibacterial products.
A spokesman for the soap industry tells WebMD that no evidence exists
outside the laboratory linking the use of antibacterial soaps and cleansers to
the promotion of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
"It is egregious to continually hype the hypothesis that these products
are contributing to antibiotic resistance," Brian Sansoni of the Soap and
Detergent Association (SDA) tells WebMD. "These researchers keep raising
the specter of what could happen, but it is a ghost story without a
FDA: Antibacterial Soaps Not Better
Sansoni called the review "predictable repackaging of old studies and
old opinions," adding that the issue of whether antibacterial soaps and
cleansers promote antibiotic resistance has been put to rest by "study
Aiello disagrees. While antibiotic resistance is routinely tracked in
hospitals and other health care settings, tracking resistance trends in the
community remains a huge challenge, she says.
"These [community-based] studies are very hard to do," she tells
WebMD. "We haven't been able to study this in the way we would like, and I
don't know if we will be able to in the future."
An FDA advisory panel considered the question of the effectiveness of
antibacterial products in the fall of 2005; the panel overwhelmingly concluded
that there was no evidence proving that antibacterial soaps were more effective
than regular soaps for preventing infection.
There was talk at the time of restricting the labeling or advertising of new
antibacterial products, but the agency has taken no formal action.