No Need for Antibacterial Soap
In a study last week, Rutgers researchers confirmed that antibacterial soap is not necessary to remove bacteria during hand washing.1 They also found that the amount of soap used and the temperature of the water are also not important factors in ensuring hand cleanliness. This study is in confirmation of the FDA report issued last year that antimicrobial soaps were not better than other soaps, and could cause health problems.
Bacteria – Not So Bad After All
It is becoming more and more accepted by the medical community, especially the medical research community, that bacteria are not the bad guys. The bacteria that make up our intestinal flora are being shown in studies more and more to be intimately related to obesity, and other elements of metabolic syndrome. Antibiotics in this regard are being questioned ever more frequently as to the damage they may be causing by eradicating ALL the “bugs,” and thereby disrupting this flora. The bacteria on the skin is no different.
We have commensal bacteria on the skin which when antibacterial soaps are used are killed off, leaving potentially important protection of our skin lacking. Many people complain of sensitivities to antibacterial soap, though for many years it has been considered necessary to ensure sanitation. This research directly contradicts this idea. In fact the FDA ordered that companies stop marketing products containing triclosan already, though to change to soaps with chloroxylenol has been made.
Nonpathogenic Strain of E. Coli Study
In the study, 20 volunteers had a nonpathogenic strain of E. Coli introduced to their hands, after washing with 1 mL of a non-antimicrobial soap for 5 seconds with 100 degree water. This was the preparation for the study. After inoculation, patients were tested with a variety of water temperatures, handwashing durations of between 5-20 seconds, and with antibacterial and non-antibacterial soap, in varying amounts. The data supported no difference between the effectiveness of antimicrobial soap and non-antimicrobial soap. Likewise, the amount of soap, 0.5, 1, or 2mL did not matter significantly. The temperature of the water, also did not matter, with 100 degree water, just as effective as 60 degree water, which seems quite cold to the touch to most people. The biggest factor in hand washing effectiveness was shown to be duration, and technique.
The CDC recommends washing hands for 20 seconds in a fashion which scrubs the backs of the hands, in between each finger, and under the nails. The study in question found that 10 seconds is adequate for most sanitation purposes, though 20 seconds is indeed better. This is a far cry from what most people are likely doing, according to a study conducted by Michigan State University that found out of 3,700 people using a public restroom, only about 70 people even used soap – only 5% washed in a way which would actually remove an adequate amount of bacteria from the skin. Kinda makes one wonder why we’re not getting sick a lot more than we are, if bacteria causes disease. . .
- Jensen DA, Macinga DR, Shumaker DJ, Bellino R, Arbogast JW, Schaffner DW. Quantifying the Effects of Water Temperature, Soap Volume, Lather Time, and Antimicrobial Soap as Variables in the Removal of Escherichia coli ATCC 11229 from Hands. J Food Prot. 2017;80(6):1022-1031.
Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.