• April 20, 2015

Iowa State Daily

Pros, cons of antibacterial soap

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Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2007 12:00 am

Consumers who believe that antibacterial soaps are better at keeping your hands clean are in for a surprise.

According to a recent study done at the University of Michigan, antibacterial soaps have no more positive health effects than regular soaps. Further findings from the study conclude that triclosan, a key component of antibacterial soaps, might make some bacteria resistant to antibiotic drugs, including amoxicillin.

Robert Hubert, teaching lab coordinator of microbiology, warns students to be wary of the study's findings.

"There is no conclusive evidence that says that using antibacterial soaps are creating resistant strains of bacteria," Hubert said.

Hubert pointed out that triclosan must be kept on the skin for a while and there must be higher levels of it to be effective. Antibacterial soaps with high levels of triclosan are a staple in hospitals, where doctors are constantly washing their hands.

"Due to the levels of triclosan and the time you keep it on your skin, it isn't all that effective," Hubert said, of the antibacterial soaps commonly sold in stores.

Your best defense against illness is properly washing your hands, Hubert said.

Hubert recommends washing hands with warm water for as long as it takes to say the ABCs twice. Hubert admits it seems like a long time but said many people don't wash their hands long enough for them to actually be clean. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can make hands extra clean, if used after hand washing.

Hubert said not to worry about removing all the germs from your hands because it's nearly impossible and it's healthy to have some germs.

"The normal bugs that are there provide enough competition that the pathogenic bugs [disease-causers] don't get a chance to colonize and grow and cause infection," Hubert said. "If you remove them all the time, you provide an environment for pathogens to get started."

Hubert said the alcohol in hand sanitizers will kill bacteria and take the oils off the skin to kill bacteria.

"It really won't hurt you, it's just an improvement over the soap, in that the alcohol kills immediately," Hubert said. "It's reasonably effective for killing bacteria, but it can't be used as a substitute for washing hands."

James Graefe, senior in chemical engineering, said he wasn't too concerned with antibacterial soap over regular soap.

"I use regular soap," Graefe said, "I don't really worry about it too much."

After a job as a nursing assistant, Jessica Lykins, senior in child, adult and family services, said she began to pay more attention to hand washing, since it was required in the health field.

"I do actually [use antibacterial soap]. I'm not sure why, it's just what my parents always bought and used," Lykins said.

Kalin said small, purse-sized bottles of hand sanitizer are harmful to children if swallowed, while it wouldn't be enough to intoxicate an adult.

According to the Iowa Statewide Poison Control Center Web site, during the first five months of this year, 53 Iowans called the center because of children's exposure to ethanol-based hand sanitizers.

Kalin said children often accidentally swallow EBHS because it's clear like water, and has an innocent smell.

"In a bigger bottle [of hand sanitizer] for the adult, it certainly could be used to get intoxicated," Kalin said.

Kalin said ethanol is also found in products such as perfume, aftershave and mouthwash.

The Poison Control Center has had some cases of adults abusing these products, Kalin said, in order to obtain ethanol, to try to replace alcoholic beverages.

The volume of these calls aren't high, but Kalin said it's more common than the statistics show since not all abusers call the Poison Control Center.

Kalin said an adult who drinks hand sanitizer may seem to be drunk. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of muscle control.

"We have not heard of any problems with ISU students ingesting hand sanitizer," said Lauri Dusselier, program coordinator at Thielen Student Health Center.

Caitlin Clark, sophomore in nutritional science, said hand sanitizers are important to use to reduce germs.

"I think overall [hand sanitizers are] a good idea because many people aren't aware of how many germs and bacteria are out there," Clark said.

Hand sanitizers are known for their convenience to clean hands when it's impossible to wash your hands. As convenient as hand sanitizers are, some individuals are using the sanitizers improperly - usually by accident, but not in all cases.

There have been reports in the U.S. of adults drinking hand sanitizer, solely to obtain the alcohol. One incident occurred in a Maryland prison, where a man drank hand sanitizer from a one-gallon bottle.

A letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested not putting hand sanitizer products in easy access at jails, nursing homes, hospitals, and schools, for the temptation it could cause for people who are most apt to use it improperly.

Linda Kalin, managing director for the Iowa Statewide Poison Control Center said hand sanitizers contain ethanol, which is the same alcohol found in beer, wine and vodka. It is not the equivalent to rubbing alcohol.

According to the Poison Control Center's Web site, hand sanitizers are 62 percent ethanol, compared to 40 to 50 percent of ethanol in most brands of hard liquors.

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