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Antibacterial soap became popular in the 1990s, and many saw it as a way to avoid getting sick. With greater usage, scientists and medical practitioners began to question the benefits of using it, especially since it is now often added not only to hand soap, but to detergents, and other products.
One clear understanding is that antibacterial soap will not keep one from getting ill. Though it does kill most bacteria, it is ineffective against viruses. Washing the hands can cut down on viral spread, but if a child spends a day in a classroom with another child with a cold, even handwashing may not be enough, since many rhinoviruses are inhaled.
However, handwashing is especially important in cutting down on the spread of most viral stomach ailments, which are usually spread through improper toileting hygiene. Children and adults should always wash their hands prior to eating, and especially after using the bathroom.
Bacteria does indeed cause many stomach ailments, and most people believe that only antibacterial soap can protect them against these germs. In most cases, this is not true. Good handwashing practices with warm soap and water kills most bacteria.
One concern about long-term use of antibacterial products like soap is that they may produce bacteria that are resistant to certain antibacterials. A stronger bacterium means the potential for making people sicker in the future, and having fewer cures to offer them. Another concern is that one of its main ingredients, triclosan, is now showing up in our water supply. Its presence has also been detected in human breast milk, and in oceans. This means we are all ingesting triclosan, with unknown future ramifications. So far scientists have not found a way to rid water sources of triclosan contamination.
While antibacterial soap in the home might cause a bit of extra protection against common household bacteria, it is not clear how much triclosan might ultimately affect bacteria in the wild, or in our bodies. Bacteria are a necessary part of every ecosystem. We have fantastic bacteria in our guts and on our skin that often kill fungus and actually make us function better. Large scale elimination of bacteria in the environment through triclosan could have ultimately devastating effects, and is more concerning since we cannot seem to get rid of it.
Lastly, many in the medical profession believe that young children need exposure to “normal” bacteria to build resistance against stronger bacterial. By having our children use antibacterial soap, we may in fact be contributing to future health problems for our kids.
Thus, antibacterial soap, though it seemed like such a good idea, may in fact be harmful in the long run. Many hospitals are now switching back to using regular soap, and are saving antibacterial handwashing for direct exposure to certain very harmful bacteria. Many medical experts now advise that people make the switch at home as well, to avoid unpredictable, and possibly damaging future consequences.