Last week the FDA banned certain antiseptic ingredients in over-the-counter soaps and body washes. Why? Because there was no evidence that they were more effective than plain soap and water, and because they could be harmful. As an infectious diseases physician, I spend a lot of time cleaning my hands. There is now good evidence that hand hygiene helps to prevent infections acquired in the hospital. Also, there are compounds specifically studied in the healthcare setting, like alcohol-based hand sanitizer and chlorhexidine antiseptic handwash, with known antimicrobial activity. The use of these in healthcare can lower rates of infection. These products should be used in the healthcare setting.
However, the antiseptics that are commonly found in over-the-counter soaps, like triclosan and triclocarban, have not been demonstrated to be effective. And, how could they be harmful? Triclosan products end up in our drains and then in our rivers and waterways. In addition to the environmental load, triclosan has also been detected in human urine, breast milk, amniotic fluid, and blood. There is concern it is an endocrine disrupter, interfering with estrogen and testosterone levels. Further, some bacteria have become resistant to triclosan, and can lead to cross-resistance in antibiotics that are important for human use. We already have enough problems with antibiotic resistance.
While banning these ineffective ingredients from over-the-counter soaps is a good step, these compounds are still found in many other types of household products, including toothpaste and deodorants. Read the label to know what you are getting.
For cleaning your hands outside the healthcare setting, rely on the physical removal of contaminants using plain soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good idea when sinks are not accessible and can be used after handwashing during cold and flu season for extra protection.
At my house, we use handwash made with Castile soap (for the detergent to physically remove contaminants), vegetable glycerin (for hand softening), and essential oils (for immune support and a lovely smell). See the recipe below.
Click here to see the full ruling by the FDA:
Homemade Hand Wash
One 8 oz foaming soap dispenser
10 drops of essential oil of your choice (Thieves®, Lavender, Lemon)
2 Tbsp. castile soap
1 tsp vegetable glycerin
Fill almost full with distilled water, just leaving enough room to replace the foam pump.