The other day, one of my customers asked me if any of our soaps had deodorant action. It seems that her husband, a builder, was a bit aromatic when he came home from work. She though he needed a deodorant soap such as Dial to keep fresh. I wondered what gave Dial its deodorant properties so I went to the store to check it out. There is quite a list of ingredients in a bar of Dial……Pentasoduim pentetate, BHT, Tetrasodium etidronate, Peg-6 methyl ether……Ah! Triclocarban! That’s the ingredient that “targets gram-positive bacteria which cause body odor,” according to the manufacturer. You can imagine how much of this bacteria-killing ingredient has to linger on the skin in order to fight odor all day long!

Anti-bacterials have really taken over the soap aisle. As I looked at the other bar and liquid soaps on the shelf, I saw that half to two-thirds were labeled antibacterial, all little foot-soldiers in our society’s war against germs. With the cold and flu season coming on, frequent hand scrubbing with antibacterial soaps might sound like a good idea. But get this: in 2002, the National Institutes for Health funded a double-blind controlled clinical trial to compare antimicrobial soaps and regular soap. The results? Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap and water in reducing microbes.

Far from preventing the spread of illness, these antibacterial additives may actually be doing harm. The relatively harsh detergent action of antibacterial soaps can strip away naturally protective fatty acids, moisture, and amino acids from the skin, leaving it more vulnerable to skin problems such as eczema. In addition, the excessive use of triclocarban and other antimicrobial agents may be contributing to the emergence of bacteria-resistant superbugs. The jury is still out on this question, but some lab studies suggest that such products kill off the more sensitive bacteria, leaving behind hardier bacteria such as e. coli and staphylococcus aureus.

The debate will no doubt continue. In the meantime, we can do our skins and the planet a favor by skipping the antibacterials in favor of warm water and good old-fashioned soap. Handcrafted soap especially, with its nourishing olive oil and 25% naturally occuring glycerine, is a gentle non-drying and perfectly effective way to wash your hands!