WASHED UP: Could antibacterial soaps do more harm than good?
WASHED UP: Could antibacterial soaps do more harm than good? Thinkstock

Antibacterial soap's dirty little secret

IN THE past few years, the popularity of antibacterial products has increased.

You can find them in soaps, household and surface sprays, wipes, gels and a multitude of other cleverly marketed products.

But are we actually in this galactic-style war against microbes that consumers are terrified of?

Microbiologist Liz Harry, from University of Technology Sydney's ithree institute, which researches infectious diseases, is questioning regular antibacterial use as well as the benefit of other ingredients the FDA has just banned in America and which Australia is still using.

Professor Harry says the ingredients contained in antibacterial products should be investigated.

Triclosan and triclocarban are found in most antibacterial products and are among 19 ingredients banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in September.

The FDA said there was not enough evidence to show these products were better than ordinary soap and warm water, and that they could do more harm than good.

Professor Harry says the regular use of antibacterial soaps is promoting "superbugs" and is calling for a similar ban to be introduced in Australia.

"An antibiotic, a drug that you take for infection, is the same type of entity that's in an antibacterial soap.

"They're just different types of chemicals, but they're all antibacterials," she said.

The problem is, with regular use of these products, bacteria can code their DNA to become resistant, not just to the antibacterial in your wash or wipes but also to the antibiotic you really need when you're sick.

It's already happening, and that's when we have a real problem as there is nothing else in the pipelines.

I will leave you with this question: should we be encouraging our small children and elderly, the two groups most prone to sickness and in need of antibiotics to work, to be using antibacterials regularly in childcare centres and elderly homes?

Perhaps not.

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