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Antibacterial versus Probiotic Soap: Which One Is Better According to Science?

antibacterial vs probiotic soap

Washing our hands is so engrained into our daily schedule that it has become a mindless habit. We don’t even realize how much we wash our hands in a day anymore. Even more so, we don’t realize the varying ingredients found in different brands of hand soap, as well as the different types of soap available, such as antibacterial, glycerin, or probiotic soap.

With so many different soaps on the market, it’s hard to know which one is truly the most natural and safest for you and your family. Each soap has different ingredients. And each a different sales pitch on why to choose it. Some are made to kill germs, some to smell good, and some simply to get you clean. Yet, some use toxic ingredients or harmful fragrances that you don’t want to put on your skin. Since there are so many variables, we wanted to help clear some of them up for you, so you and your family can make the best possible choice for staying clean and toxin-free.

How Does Soap Work?

First, let’s see how soap works and how it cleans and disinfects so that we can better understand what kind of soaps are good or bad for you. When it comes to soaps you will always hear these two chemical terms, polar and nonpolar. So let’s get them out of the way by understanding what they mean.

  • Polar means that things can be fully mixed with water, such as salt.
  • Nonpolar are things that do not mix with water, such as oil. When you mix oil and water, you will notice the oil float to the top.

The molecules found in soap are amphipathic. This means they have both polar and nonpolar properties. Due to these properties, soaps can dissolve various types of molecules. This is why it is easy to wash them off your hands.

When it comes to getting rid of bacteria, soap plays both a chemical and behavioral role. First, the amphipathic properties “loosen” the bacteria off your hands so that it is easy to wash them away using water. Second, you should be spending approximately one-minute washing your hands. Due to this, you are not killing any bacteria, instead, you are merely washing the bacteria away. However, as we will see in a moment, many companies add toxic ingredients to in fact kill the bacteria.

What to Know About Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soap is a soap that has an active ingredient called an antimicrobial. This ingredient is usually not in non-anti-bacterial hand soaps. You use antibacterial soaps to fight bacteria (does not work for viruses). This is because they target and kill microorganisms or stop them from growing in culture. You would think this is a good thing right? But then you would be wrong. According to an article published by Harvard, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put a ban on 19 antibacterial additives. All of which are commonly used to make over the counter soaps.

Toxic Ingredients Hiding in Antibacterial Soaps

One important ingredient that was used in antibacterial soaps that the FDA banned is known as triclosan. Triclosan was first discovered in 1964 by a company called Ciba-Geigy in Switzerland. At first, Triclosan was being used everywhere, hospitals, soaps, etc. But later, studies have shown the effects triclosan can have on the body, as well as the environment. Studies that were conducted on cells and animals have shown that the chemicals from triclosan can:

  • alter hormone signaling and other biological processes
  • increase the risk of allergies
  • impair muscle function
  • disrupt hormones
  • harm aquatic ecosystems and algae life
  • contributes to the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

While the FDA has banned this ingredient, you may still find some soap on the shelves today with this ingredient listed.

Another ingredient found in antibacterial soaps banned by FDA includes hexachlorophene. Studies have shown that the use of excessive hexachlorophene can be harmful to humans. Although the FDA did place limitations on the amount of these chemicals that can be used, companies are simply switching out banned or limited chemicals to new chemicals with less safety data available on them.

For instance, many companies have chosen to use benzalkonium chloridebenzethonium chloride, or chloroxylenol (PCMX) in their soaps as an antimicrobial instead. While the data is still limited on these chemicals, some evidence suggests that they too are toxic to humans over prolonged periods of time.

Are Antibacterial Soaps Effective?

With all of these toxic chemicals used to make antibacterial soaps, it leaves us wondering if there’s any use for them at all besides overloading our bodies with more toxins. And, when we began to look into it, we found there isn’t! In fact, the FDA recommends washing your hands with non-antibacterial soap instead of antibacterial due to the companies never being able to prove the effectiveness of their antibacterial products.

What Other Options Are There Besides Antibacterial Soap?

In short, yes, there are many other varieties of hand soap on the market. You could choose bar soap, foaming hand soap, standard liquid hand soap, glycerin soaps, or probiotic soap. For the vast majority of hand soaps on the market, there are not many differences besides:

  • the type of fragrance or essential oil,
  • the number of chemical-based ingredients added,
  • and whether or not alcohol or glycerin is in the soap.

However, probiotic hand soaps do have one key difference, which is the inclusion of microorganisms that aid in the health of your skin.

So, What Exactly Are Probiotics?

Probiotics have become a buzz word recently in the health sector, and for good reason! In short, these little guys are microscopic bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in and on your body (inside and out). They are the “good guys” when it comes to bacteria. They help ward off harmful bacteria and maintain optimal health.

Commonly used probiotics include strains of:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium

There are also other probiotics available on the market, such as Bacillus coagulan, that haven’t gotten as much attention due to lack of research and probiotics being a relatively new field of study, even though their existence has been known since 1907.

Probiotics on Your Skin

Most often we hear about probiotics being used to help balance the microbiome of the gastrointestinal tract. However, you can also find these microorganisms in your mouth, vagina, urinary tract, lungs, and on your skin. Thus, making them pretty important for your overall health! With the skin being the largest organ of the human body, it’s no wonder we can find these good bacteria covering the skin helping to get rid of the harmful bacteria responsible for causing:

  • inflammation,
  • outbreaks,
  • eczema,
  • psoriasis,
  • or other skin conditions.

Personally, I like to think of these microorganisms as my personal protection for daily living in our toxic world. And, I think you will too once you see how probiotics work below.

How Is Probiotic Soap Effective?

By adding these microorganisms to soap and other skincare products, we are able to replenish the good bacteria throughout the day. Then, they can do the job of warding off any pathogens or other harmful bacteria that we may encounter. Then, instead of killing all of the bacteria (good or bad) present on the skin, probiotic soap aims to simply remove and debris, and replenish the skin with good bacteria to continue fighting off any invaders.

In an article published by University College London, the possibility of replacing antibacterial soap with probiotic soap is discussed. Professor Mark Spigelman brings up the issue of antibacterial soaps that we discussed earlier in this article and how now is the time to re-evaluate the use of these soaps, especially in the healthcare sector.

How Bacteria Grows

Moreover, he goes on to talk about how bacteria do not grow on top of each other, instead they spread and duplicate next to each other. Knowing this, we should look into using and incorporating probiotics into our hand washing routine. Even dipping the hands in a mixture of harmless bacteria, such as yogurt, after washing our hands can prevent unhealthy bacteria from growing and settling on the skin. By doing so, we will promote healthy bacteria growth on the skin, leaving no space for harmful bacteria to colonize.

So when it really comes down to it, washing your hands is important, but it is equally as important to know what goes into the soaps you use.

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