Antibacterial soap can be found just about everywhere these days, from schools to public bathrooms. While it is always smart to try to prevent the spread of bacteria that can lead to illness and infections, let’s not forget that old-fashioned soap and water did the trick long before these products came onto the scene.
It has been more than three years since the Food and Drug Administration first proposed a ban on many of the ingredients commonly found in antibacterial soaps—and the agency issued its final ruling a few weeks ago: Companies have one year to reformulate their products without 19 specific ingredients or pull them from store shelves.
This includes triclosan and triclocarbon, which have become the most used (and most scrutinized). Researchers have found these antimicrobials are no better at killing germs than regular soap, and they may actually pose risks, including the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the potential for them to enter the bloodstream and have detrimental effects within the body.
As a dermatologist, when I see a patient with irritation or dermatitis on their hands, my first questions is always, “What kind of soap do you use?” and most of the time they say an antibacterial formulation. In addition to minimizing bacteria, these soaps also strip the skin of its natural moisture and disrupt the skin’s barrier, which results in dryness, irritation and discomfort (and exacerbates eczema). Hand-washing is still the best way to prevent the spread of germs, but a non-drying soap like Dove does just as good of a job without the side effects. (I like to use GCP Pre & Post Procedure Cleanser since the skin on my hands is sensitive from washing so much.) If you experience redness, dryness or irritation from hand soap, applying lotion or cream after washing helps seal in moisture while keeping skin soft and smooth as well.
Keep in mind that this ruling doesn’t affect alcohol-based hand sanitizer gels and wipes — those are being looked at separately — and the antiseptics found in hospitals are exempt from this ban as well.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.