Antibacterial soap is any cleaning product to which active antimicrobial ingredients have been added. These chemicals kill bacteria and microbes, but are no more effective at deactivating viruses than any other kind of soap or detergent, and they also kill nonpathogenic bacteria.
Most liquid hand and body soaps contain antibacterial chemicals. Triclosan is a common ingredient. Since there is a great variety of bacteria, effectiveness against any given type of bacterium does not ensure that it is effective against unrelated types. These are generally only contained at preservative levels unless the product is marked antibacterial, antiseptic, or germicidal. Triclosan, Triclocarban/Trichlorocarbamide and PCMX/Chloroxylenol are commonly used for antibacterial and deodorant effect in consumer products.
Some soaps contain tetrasodium EDTA which is a chelating agent that sequesters metals that the bacteria require in order to grow. Other microbes also require metals and so it is actually an anti-microbial agent that is widely used even as a preservative.
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Recent research from the Mo Bio Laboratories in California suggests that antibacterial hand soaps have no effect on deactivating viruses. The study states "water alone was very effective so perhaps the water following soap helped to solubilize more virus. However, water alone with rubbing has the best reduction in virus and the rubbing with soap followed by water does not have an additive effect." Furthermore, ethanol-based solutions such as general hand sanitizers have no effect on viruses.
Studies have examined the purported benefits of antibacterial soap without clear consensus about the results. Some studies have concluded that simply washing thoroughly with plain soap is sufficient to reduce bacteria and, further, is effective against viruses. Other studies have found that soaps containing antimicrobial active ingredients remove more bacteria than simply washing with plain soap and water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published reports that question the use of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers saying that it found no medical studies that showed a link between a specific consumer antibacterial product and a decline in infection rates.
At one conference, Dr. Stuart Levy, a microbiologist at Tufts University, cites these studies to compare antibacterial action with antibiotic resistance: "Dousing everything we touch with antibacterial soaps and taking antibiotic medications at the first sign of a cold can upset the natural balance of microorganisms in and around us, leaving behind only the 'superbugs'."1 See Triclosan#Resistance_concerns
It has since been shown that the laboratory method used by Dr. Levy was not effective in predicting bacterial resistance for biocides like triclosan. At least seven peer-reviewed and published studies have been conducted demonstrating that triclosan is not significantly associated with bacterial resistance over the short term, including one study coauthored by Dr. Levy.
Recent research from Dr. Levy's lab (Aiello, et al., 2005) concludes that "The results from our study do not implicate the use of antibacterial cleaning and hygiene products as an influential factor in carriage of antimicrobial drug-resistant bacteria on the hands of household members." However, a more recent literature review performed by Dr. Levy (Aiello et al., 2007) concluded that "The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising." The paper's authors called for continued research in this area.
- "The Dirt on Clean: Antibacterial Soap v. Regular Soap". CBC.ca. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
- Lucet, JC; Rigaud MP; Mentre F; Kassis N; Deblangy C; Andremont A; Bouvet E (April 2002). "Hand contamination before and after different hand hygiene techniques: a randomized clinical trial". Journal of Hospital Infection 50 (4): 276–280. doi:10.1053/jhin.2002.1202. PMID 12014900.
- Gibson, LL; Rose JB; Haas CN; Gerba CP; Rusin PA (May 2002). "Quantitative assessment of risk reduction from hand washing with antibacterial soaps". Journal of Applied Microbiology 92: 136S–143S. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2672.92.5s1.17.x. PMID 12000622.
- FDA questions use of antibacterial soaps (Tuesday, October 18, 2005) By Jane Zhang, The Wall Street Journal
- McBain AJ, Bartolo RG, Catrenich CE, et al. (2003). "Exposure of sink drain microcosms to triclosan: population dynamics and antimicrobial susceptibility". Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69 (9): 5433–42. doi:10.1128/AEM.69.9.5433-5442.2003. PMC 194980. PMID 12957932.
- Aiello AE, Marshall B, Levy SB, Della-Latta P, Larson E (2004). "Relationship between triclosan and susceptibilities of bacteria isolated from hands in the community". Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 48 (8): 2973–9. doi:10.1128/AAC.48.8.2973-2979.2004. PMC 478530. PMID 15273108.
- Aiello AE, Marshall B, Levy SB, Della-Latta P, Lin SX, Larson E. (2005), Antibacterial cleaning products and drug resistance. Emerg Infect Dis., Oct;11(10):1565-70.
- Aiello AE, Larson EL, Levy SB. (2007), Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky? Clin Infect Dis., Sep 1;45 Suppl 2:S137-47.