As a germophobe, I used to be all about antibacterial soap. It just seems better than regular soap. I’m cleaning my body to get rid of germs, so why wouldn’t I want a more powerful germ-killer? Well, it turns out, antibacterial soaps, hand washes and body washes are not necessarily keeping me healthier, and they’re actually quite dangerous.
Back when Bath and Body Works was cruelty free (now they say they will test when required by law), I would go to the mall and stock up on their highly scented, antibacterial soaps by the armload. Now I realize that the perfumes and chemicals were probably terrible for me, and the antibacterial agent (triclosan) was not doing me any favors. Before I went cruelty free (back in high school), I also used Clearasil (NOT cruelty free!) to prevent acne. I was just pumping tons of triclosan into my blood stream (via my face) and only barely making a dent in my acne.
It’s not just me either. Americans are obsessed with being clean and killing germs. We have been over-prescribing antibiotics and over-using topical antibacterial products to the point that we are creating super bugs that we can’t kill. Bacteria evolve. When we start nuking them, the ones that survive replicate, and they create new, stronger bugs. So we may be winning the battle, but we’re losing the war.
If the idea of super bugs doesn’t scare you, consider the dangers of triclosan (TCS) or triclocarban (TCC). It was developed in the 1960s and used as a hospital scrub in the ’70s. It’s a potential hormone disruptor that may have estrogenic effects. There’s also some evidence that it may decrease thyroid hormones. There is also some evidence that it can cause birth defects and certain allergies. Water reclamation plants can’t filter out them out, so they get into our drinking water. There is still a lot of controversy over the findings (done mostly with tests on animals…), but there’s enough evidence for me to seriously limit my use of antibacterial products. In 2013, the FDA decided that triclosan had no benefit over using regular soaps and body washes, so they banned the sale of most of them (except for hospitals, nursing homes, etc).
Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products, says, “There’s no data demonstrating that these drugs provide additional protection from diseases and infections. Using these products might give people a false sense of security. If you use these products because you think they protect you more than soap and water, that’s not correct. If you use them because of how they feel, there are many other products that have similar formulations but won’t expose your family to unnecessary chemicals.”
So – antibacterial soaps are not really helping us fight off illness. If you come down with a sickness, there’s a really good chance it’s not bacteria-related. It’s probably a virus, and you can’t kill those with antibiotics. Plus, when you use antibacterial products, you’re also killing the GOOD bacteria. From WebMD, “Most bacteria are harmless, and some actually help by digesting food, destroying disease-causing microbes, fighting cancer cells, and providing essential nutrients. Fewer than 1% of bacteria cause diseases in people.” The new trend is to use probiotics in skincare, and to avoid scrubbing away all the good bacteria. I’ve only dabbled with probiotics in skincare, and I haven’t had much luck, but my mom SWEARS they have cleared up her back acne!
Triclosan is in a lot of antibacterial soaps, hand washes, body washes, detergents, shampoos, mouthwashes and toothpaste (Colgate Total for example). I personally still use hand sanitizer from time to time. I might use it after shaking hands with someone who is sick, or in an airport, or in a situation where I’m about to eat and I can’t get to soap and water. But, I don’t use it often, and definitely don’t bathe myself in it. I also used antibacterial soap days before a surgery I had several years ago. If your doctor says to use it for a particular reason, I’d do it. Just don’t go crazy and use it constantly.
Since I’m constantly fighting acne on my face and body (and I’m still a germophobe), I like to use natural alternatives to make sure I kill the bugs that need to be killed. Tea tree oil is a great natural antibacterial ingredient that won’t cause health problems or create massive super bugs or environmental issues. Although it’s possible for tea tree oil to contribute to antibiotic resistance, the evidence so far makes it seem very unlikely. Read more on that here.
I really like tea tree oil, and I feel that in most concentrations, it’s quite safe. I have been using Keeva Organics Body Wash to scrub away dirt and bacteria. It has tea tree oil and salt to help fight acne bacteria. It also has argan oil and coconut oil to keep my skin from drying out. The formula is cruelty free and vegan, and made without any harsh chemicals, parabens, sulfates, etc. Keeva Organics uses high potency, fair trade tea tree oil from steam distillation plants.
For $25, you get a HUGE bottle that will last a long time! That’s also great if you have a big family and want to share. I love that it comes with a pump, so I can apply it directly to my skin, or on my shower pouf. The scent is not perfume-y or girly – it smells like natural tea tree oil, but not overwhelming. I use it all over, but I especially like to use this tea tree oil body wash on my back, arms, chest, underarms and feet (the extra oily or dirty areas!).
Just a note – some of the reviews I found online for the product have been mixed. I have learned that they reformulated over a year ago, and most of the negative reviews are from that time. Some have noticed that the argan, tea tree and coconut oils aren’t listed in the ingredients. In 2016, they went back to the original formulation, but they are still using old packaging, so the star ingredients are not listed. I know what tea tree oil smells like (it’s very distinctive!) and this product most definitely has tea tree oil in it! You can feel safe trying it out – there’s also a 100 day full money back guarantee.
Here’s what their Amazon listing had to say: “Update as of September 2016. The following are the new ingredients of Body Wash. Our bottle shows otherwise because these are bottles from our last production prior to updating our new set of ingredients. Water, Coconut Soap, Glycol Distearate, Cocamidopropyl DEA, d-Menthol, Olive Oil, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E), Sodium Chloride, Fragrance, Tea Tree Oil, Coconut Oil, Argan Oil.”