Monday, June 6, 2011

Antibacterial Soap a Health Risk

Natural soap has long been used in effectively getting rid of germs and bacteria, but in recent years there has been a rise in the use of household products containing antibacterial agents. The American Medical Association (AMA) has been monitoring the use of these household items and warns against them, stating that today's elevated uses of such products could create bacteria resistant to both antibiotics and the antibacterial soaps themselves.
When antibacterial products first appeared on the consumer market there were only a dozen sanitizing products available. Today the market for antibacterial products has grown to hundreds of consumer household products from hand soaps, lotions and toothpastes to even food container packaging, pillows, mattresses and full bathrooms outfitted with Tricoslan, an anti-microbial agent. While bacteria become resistant, scientists fear that a germ-free household environment may result in our immune systems becoming weakened. A number of studies have shown that the development of allergies, asthma and skin problems in children is linked to their having been raised in household environments that are too sterile.
Some may argue that the use of an antibacterial soap may not even have the antibacterial effect which it is intended to. Dr. Stuart B. Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine states "To achieve a 90% death rate, wild-type E. coli required exposure to 150 µg/mL of triclosan in soap for 2 hours at 37ºC... Most importantly, the time, temperature, and amount needed to kill the bacteria greatly exceeded the average 5-second hand washing performed by most people."
Much of what is available and popularly used today is called soap but cannot in fact be categorized as soap. According to the FDA these detergent bars, comprised of chemical cleansers, foaming agents and surfactants, cannot be called soap and are otherwise named beauty or bath bars. Real soap is defined by the FDA as being "of an alkali salt of fatty acids and whose detergent properties are due to these alkali-fatty acid compounds". Soap's soluble fats (vegetable, fruit or animal) are introduced to an alkaline substance and undergo a process known as saponification over a period of time in which the fat molecules turn into the hard sudsing alkaline bar called soap! The long chain molecules of soap are lipophillic (non polar) on one end and hydrophillic (polar) on the other, thereby attracting and dislodging both dirt and oils as well as water to the molecule and then rinsing clean off the surface and down the drain.
The pH scale which measures the acidity or alkalinity of substances measures from 0 on the acidic end to 14 on the basic or alkaline end with a neutral pH at 7. Natural soap measures between 9 to 9.5 on the pH scale making it too alkaline an environment for bacteria to live in and multiply. At the soap shop plenty of people ask whether keeping a natural bar of soap at the sink for hand-washing can spread germs and bacteria. The truth is that a natural soap bar is not a suitable environment for most microbes and carries less personal and public health risks than pH balanced detergent bars and antibacterial hand washes and is indeed the better option for your hands and your environment.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff as per usual, thanks. I do hope this kind of thing gets more exposure.

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