Myth: Antibacterial soaps are more effective germ killers than regular soap.
Fact: There's insufficient evidence that antibacterial soaps are any better than plain soap and water. But what's especially troubling is that an antibacterial agent found in many of those soaps may have harmful health effects, several studies have shown.
The chemical triclosan was developed as a surgical scrub half a century ago and is a common ingredient in soaps and body washes, toothpastes, mouthwashes and deodorants. It's even found in some clothing and cookware.
A UC Davis study released last week showed that triclosan reduces muscle strength in mice and fish, and researchers theorize it may also be a problem for humans.
Another study, released by University of Michigan scientists last year, found that triclosan may compromise the human immune system, making people more susceptible to allergies and more vulnerable to the toxic chemical Bisphenol A, which is found in plastics and linings of food cans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has created a website with consumer information and warnings about triclosan. On the site, the agency notes that triclosan is not yet proven to be hazardous to humans, but several studies of the chemical have come out since the FDA last reviewed it. The FDA currently is conducting a new review of triclosan, results of which are expected to be released this winter.
There is at least one merit of triclosan, according to the FDA. Based on its own 1997 study, toothpastes and mouthwashes that contain the chemical are better at preventing gingivitis than similar products without triclosan.
Until the FDA releases the results of its review, public health officials suggest that concerned consumers wash with regular soap and review product labels for triclosan.
They can also use antibacterial hand sanitizing gels with alcohol as the active ingredient. Sanitizers made up of at least 60 percent alcohol are an effective way of killing most germs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.