The Word On Washing

With cold and flu season well under way, most likely you are doubling up on the hand washing. And rightfully so – hand washing is definitely one of the best ways to stave off those nasty viruses. What you may not realize, however, is that too much washing may actually harm your health instead of helping.

According to an article posted yesterday by the Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration is finally taking a closer look at the potential health problems linked to the chemicals commonly used in antibacterial soaps. After a 40-year delay, the FDA has been spurred to action by recent studies which suggest that hormone levels can be affected by triclosan and other similar chemicals.  It is estimated that nearly 75% of antibacterial liquid soaps and bodywashes contain triclosan.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus arreus (MRSA). Infections caused by these “super bugs” are very painful and difficult to treat.


Killing the Good Bugs:

This news only adds to the skepticism that has long existed over the use of these chemical antibacterial agents. First of all, there is no way to target specific bacteria; helpful microbes are killed right along with the harmful ones. The “good bugs” provide a natural defense by preventing the pathogenic microbes from colonizing on our skin. Many people also question the value of exposing themselves to chemicals that have not even been proven to work more effectively than good old soap and water (this is a particular concern for those with chemical sensitivities). Furthermore, medical experts fear that over-use of antibacterial agents may be a contributing factor to the increase of drug-resistant bacteria. If you have ever seen someone dealing with a Methicillin-resistant Staph infection, you know that this is a serious matter!


What to Use Instead:

Even if you weed out the antibacterial soaps, you are still left with a lot of options that are less than ideal. For example, many soaps contain synthetic emollients (that’s a fancy word for moisturizer), such as petrolatum or mineral oil. While your skin may feel softer at first, over time these additives clog your pores and actually take moisture away from your skin. This is important because dry, cracked skin is vulnerable and less capable of keeping pathogens out.

Person Washing Hands with Soap in Washbasin

Your best bet is to use soaps with a natural emollient, such as glycerin. Soaps made with vegetable oils are much gentler on your skin – and more environmentally friendly – than those made with potassium tallowate (if the packaging does not say what it is made from, it’s probably the latter). Check out our Naturally Safer Liquid Soap and our Naturally Safer All-Vegetable Soap, which both smell amazing and do good things for your skin!

Lastly, remember that warm water works best. Very hot water can dry you out (especially if you soak long enough to get pruney) and cold water cannot dissolve as many germs and particles. You can read more about hand washing technique on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. The CDC considers hand washing to be so important that they actually call it the “do-it-yourself-vaccine.”

So, keep washing and have a healthy holiday season!