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The Truth About Antibacterial Soap

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

We've all heard that antibacterial soap is the best soap to kill germs, but did you know the FDA banned certain antibacterial soaps in 2016? You may be wondering what to use in its place. I'm sure you've heard regular soap does not kill germs at all, but did you know it doesn't need to?

I'm sure you've heard regular soap does not kill germs at all, but did you know it doesn't need to? Germs cling to our hands because we naturally produce oils to protect our skin. Germs get caught in these oils and anything sticky or other residues we touch.

What regular soap, which is plenty effective, does is loosen the oils and dirt from our skin so that germs can successfully be rinsed down the drain (1). Germs no longer on our hands means germs can't be present to make us sick potentially!


Why Antibacterial Soap Isn't Necessary

Here is why antibacterial soap is a bad idea and unnecessary. Not only does it loosen the dirt and germs, but it also kills the germs. You may be thinking, “well, that’s what we want it to do,” right? WRONG! It also absorbs into your skin and kills the good germs in your microbiome, which can, in the long run, leave you more vulnerable to illness (2).

The FDA banned antibacterial soaps back in 2016 that contained certain ingredients. In the FDA's final rule on the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soap, they said:

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA, we, or the Agency) is issuing this final rule establishing that certain active ingredients used in over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic products intended for use with water (referred to throughout this document as consumer antiseptic washes) are not generally recognized as safe and effective (GRAS/GRAE) and are misbranded. FDA is issuing this final rule after considering the recommendations of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee (NDAC); public comments on the Agency's notices of proposed rulemaking; and all data and information on OTC consumer antiseptic wash products that have come to the Agency's attention" (3).

During the FDA's news release on the final ruling on the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soap, they said:

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term (4)."

They then discuss the long-term risks of using antibacterial soap, including bacterial resistance and hormonal effects. Along with the ban, the FDA disclosed the ingredients found in banned antibacterial soaps, including:

  • Cloflucarban

  • Fluorosalan

  • Hexachlorophene

  • Hexylresorcinol

  • Iodine Complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)

  • Iodine Complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)

  • Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine

  • Poloxamer--iodine complex

  • Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent

  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex

  • Methylbenzethonium chloride

  • Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)

  • Phenol (less than 1.5 percent)

  • Secondary amyltricresols

  • Sodium oxychlorosene

  • Tribromsalan

  • Triclocarban

  • Triclosan

  • Triple dye

Dangerous Ingredients Found in Antibacterial Soap

According to Taste of Home, the best antibacterial soap is Dial Complete. So let's look at some of the toxic ingredients in that soap.

Benzalkonium Chloride (BACs)

Benzalkonium Chloride is a chemical with widespread applications due to its broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Benzalkonium Chloride is also known as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, alkyl dimethyl (phenylmethyl) quaternary ammonium chlorides, ammonium alkyl dimethyl (phenylmethyl) chlorides, or ammonium alkyl dimethyl benzyl chlorides, are a class of quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) (5). Benzalkonium chloride has been reported to cause eye irritation and dry eyes and may affect the tear film and corneal surface (6).

Cetrimonium Chloride

Cetrimonium Chloride, also known as cetyltrimethylammonium chloride (CTAC) and N,N,N,-trimethyl, is a topical surfactant commonly found in personal care products. In some cases case, this ingredient is used as an antiseptic and disinfectant (7). The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates this ingredient a 4 due to high concerns of allergies and immunotoxicity (8).

Food Coloring

Food coloring, even when not ingested, can be problematic because it's being absorbed by the skin. Food coloring has been associated with cancer, genetic damage, asthmatic symptoms, allergic reactions, hyperactivity (ADHD), and altering children's behaviors. Learn more regarding The Truth About Food Coloring here.

Parfum (Fragrance)

Fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and many other known toxins capable of causing cancer, congenital disabilities, nervous-system disorders, and allergies. These chemicals could contain any number of the 3,100 or so stock chemical ingredients used by the fragrance industry (9). To learn more regarding The Truth About Fragrance, click here.

PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is a biocompatible, synthetic, hydrophilic polyether compound used as a binding and dispersing agent, as it can improve the separation of particles and prevent clumping (10). According to MADE SAFE, "The primary concern with PEG compounds is that Ethylene Oxide is used in their production in a process called ethoxylation. This process can cause contamination with Ethylene Oxide, a chemical associated with multiple kinds of cancer. Additionally, ethoxylated ingredients can also be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogen (11)."

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate is a synthetically-manufactured preservative added to some sodas, packaged foods, and personal care products to prolong shelf life (12). With over 1,000 studies on this ingredient available on PubMed Science Library, there is limited evidence of sense organ toxicity, classified as a low human health priority, and insufficient data to determine the safety (13).

Zinc Sulfate

Zinc Sulfate is used to make rayon, as a wood preservative, and as an analytical reagent. This ingredient is also used as a dietary supplement in herbicides, water treatments, fireproofing, deodorants, cosmetics, and fertilizers. Exposure to Zinc Sulfate can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, while inhaling Zinc Sulfate can irritate the nose and throat (14).

Natural Hand Soap Recommendations

  • Earthley's 3-in-1 Soap is gentle enough for your hair and face while still effectively cleaning your body. This soap is perfect for anyone wanting to simplify their personal cleansing routine, including the littlest of littles. Available in three scents.

  • Earthley's Christmas Cookie Soap (Seasonal) is a delicious, nourishing holiday body, and hand soap smells like cookies baking and candy making, with notes of vanilla and peppermint. Keep your skin nourished and smelling great this winter with the purest ingredients.

  • Earthley's Gentle Coconut Milk Soap is the natural and low-waste way to get clean! We use the purest ingredients to create this nourishing soap that is kind to the skin and the environment. It's gentle enough for a baby, and its lather is silky-smooth, so you can even use it to shave. Since it’s dairy-free, it’s allergy and vegan-friendly too!

  • Earthley's Kid's Fun-Shaped Gentle Body Soap keeps your kids clean with a gentle coconut milk body soap made into fun shapes! Real soap, no detergents. Choose from small (about 2 oz.) or large (about 4 oz.).

  • Earthley's Oatmeal and Honey Soap is our gentlest and most nourishing bar! It’s the best for sensitive skin that’s prone to issues like eczema. It works wonders and is safe for even the littlest of your kiddos.

  • Earthley's Spring Soap (Seasonal) lightly exfoliates with the scent of luxurious Blueberry-Vanilla. This bar of soap makes the perfect season hand soap, body and face wash!

10% earthley wellness promo code

DIY Bar to Liquid Soap

Many people aren't fans of soap bars; I get that, as I am not a huge fan either. That's why I decided to make my favorite smelling bar of soap into liquid. I still get the fantastic smell of Earthley's Seasonal Christmas Cookie Soap and access to an entirely natural hand washing experience.

What's your go-to natural hand soap?



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