Is Natural Hand Soap Antibacterial? Health, Studies (2020)

Natural Pioneers Is Natural Hand Soap Antibacterial

Antibacterial hand soap sounds compelling. Especially when we are sick or around people who are sick, we need soap to prevent infections. There is a lot more to antibacterial soap than most of us know.

Natural soap contains no antibacterial agent like Triclosan. Studies show that natural soap is proven to reduce the presence of bacteria down to 8%. According to studies, antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap. Triclosan is a hormone disruptor and can cause antibiotic resistance.

Let’s first be clear about what natural soap is.

1. What Is Natural Hand Soap?

Soap is a combination of fats or oils with an alkali (lye).” [1]

All natural hand soap – liquid and bar soap – is made during the saponification process. Saponification means “soap making”, and is a chemical reaction that occurs when fats or oils come into contact with an alkali.

Natural soap is as effective as any other soap. However, the included glycerin won’t dry your skin but hydrates and moisturizes it. [2]

Is Natural Hand Soap Organic?

When we hear the word “natural soap” we tend to think of something non-toxic, organic, containing essential oils and herbs, that is produced without animal testing, perhaps locally made with a minimal carbon footprint and is packaged without plastics.

Am I close?

You need to understand that the FDA has no definitions for “natural” or “organic” in soap. Unlike “organic spinach” which needs to grow on organic soil without the use of pesticides, and so on, soap is made through a chemical reaction of fat and lye. [3]

Natural Pioneers is natural hand soap antibacterial what is natural soap

While organic ingredients such as fats, butters, essential oils or herbs may be added to a hand soap, the laws and regulations that the FDA enforces, do not have definitions for “organic” soap. [4]

Curious about Dead Sea mud soap? Learn more in our article: What Is Dead Sea Mud Soap Good For?

Conclusion: Soap is a combination of fats or oils with an alkali (lye). During the soap making process (saponification), a chemical reaction turns the fats/oils and lye into soap and glycerin. Natural hand soap is as effective as regular soap while providing more hydration and moisture. The FDA has no definitions for “natural” or “organic” in soap that means any soap can be labeled “natural”. While organic ingredients may be added to a hand soap, the FDA laws and regulations have no definitions for “organic” soap.

2. What Makes Soap Antibacterial?

When we think of antibacterial hand soap, we think of something that kills more bacteria than regular soap, right? Especially when we’re sick or around people who are sick, we want to make sure no bacteria is being transferred.

Antibacterial hand soaps, also called antimicrobial or antiseptic soaps, contain certain chemicals not found in natural hand soaps. It’s the antibacterial agent Triclosan, that is most commonly added to reduce or prevent bacterial infection.

According to studies, handwashing with water alone reduces the presence of bacteria to 23%. If we use plain soap and water, the presence of bacteria is further reduced to 8%. [5] Let’s see how antibacterial hand soap performs in comparison.

Natural Pioneers Is Natural Soap Better is natural soap effective does natural soap work

In 2013, the FDA required manufacturers of anti-bacterial hand soap to show proof of efficacy and safety. In other words, show us that antibacterial soap works and that it’s safe. [6]

Here’s the studies on antibacterial soap:

  1. The tested antibacterial products did not reduce the risk of viral infections. [7]
  2. There was no difference found between households given plain soap compared with those given antibacterial soap. [8]
  3. Soaps with the antibacterial ingredient triclosan were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious diseases or reducing bacteria. [9]
  4. Antibacterial soaps show no health benefits over plain soaps. [10]
  5. To date, there has been no evidence to suggest household antibacterial soaps are an improvement over regular soaps. [11]

“I suspect there are a lot of consumers who assume that by using an antibacterial soap product, they are protecting themselves from illness, protecting their families. But we don’t have any evidence that that is really the case over simple soap and water.” [12]

Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s drug center
Natural Pioneers Is Natural Soap Better Is natural soap antibacterial

As you can see, despite the studies that were conducted, manufacturers could neither prove that those ingredients are safe for daily use nor could they show that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water. [13]

Conclusion: Antibacterial hand soap is different from regular and natural soap in the added ingredient Triclosan. Natural soap contains no ingredient that is commonly used in soap labeled “antibacterial”. However, natural soap, like any regular soap, is proven to reduce the presence of bacteria down to 8%. According to studies, antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap.

3. Is Antibacterial Hand Soap Bad For You?

We now know that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular or natural soaps. But is there something about them that could potentially harm our health?

You might have heard of people who eat lots of commercially (non-organic) chicken and animal products like dairy and eggs and later discover that no antibiotics work for them anymore. That is because the antibiotics used in commercially favor the emergence of resistant bacteria in animals. Resistant bacteria is then transferred to humans through meat, eggs and milk with resistant bacteria. [14]

Antibacterial hand soap acts in a similar way. Because of the way the antibacterial agent triclosan reacts in cells, it causes some bacteria to mutate and become resistant to commonly used drugs. [15]

And there is more research on the topic:

  • In animal studies, triclosan changes the way some hormones work in the body which makes it a hormone disruptor. [16]
  • Several studies demonstrated the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the use of triclosan. [17]
  • Studies have confirmed that the of use of triclosan represents a potential public health risk because of resistance to clinically important antimicrobials. [18]
  • Triclosan induces a high risk of antibiotic tolerance and reduces antibiotic efficacy a 100-fold. [19]
  • Triclosan exposure is associated with increased BMI. Moderate exposure to antibacterial soap may increase your waistline. [20]
Natural Pioneers Is Natural Soap Better is antibacterial soap bad

If you find yourself super worried right now, breathe. You can take active steps towards minimizing the chemical load you expose yourself to. First, I invite you to check out EWG’s Skin Deep Database. Here, you can check the products you have at home and make safe choices when buying new ones each time.

Are There Toxins In Natural Hand Soap?

Most producers of natural soap have strong values and you often find them marketed as eco-friendly, cruelty-free, vegan, all natural, and more. Especially when buying from local producers, commonly only very few and basic ingredients are put into a hand soap. And since they use it on themselves, they hardly ever use anything toxic in their soap-making.

While this might sound very generic, there simply is no definition by the FDA when it comes to “natural” soap. Consequently, anyone can put the “natural” label on their product.

However, you can make sure to buy toxin-free natural soaps when you do your research at least once and then stick with that product. Use EWG’s Database and look for bar soap, body wash, or hand soap.

Curious about evidence-based bath salts? Read more in our Quick And Easy Guide To Bath Salts

Conclusion: The antibacterial agent triclosan in antibacterial hand soap acts as a hormone disruptor, can increase your waistline, causes the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and can reduce antibiotic efficacy by 100 times. Overall, natural soap has more skin beneficial ingredients and is produced without toxins.

4. Liquid Vs. Bar Soap

While liquid hand soap is commonly the preferred option, bar soap is on the rise.

The difference between liquid and bar soap lies in their ingredients. While bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide, liquid soap is made with potassium hydroxide. [21]

Many people have made the switch to bar soap. And there are good reasons for it.

According to a study conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, bar soap production requires significantly less chemical raw materials. Moreover, bar soap is generally wrapped in eco-friendly paper whereas liquid soap comes in plastic bottles. Hence, bar soap requires far less packaging materials compared to liquid soap.

Natural Pioneers Is Natural Soap Better bar soap vs liquid soap what is best

The researchers also found that when washing, we use more liquid soap than bar soap. That means bar soap will last us much longer. Finally, when we consider the carbon footprint or impact on the environment, liquid soap is less efficient to transport and typically comes in a plastic container which is not completely recyclable.

Is Bar Soap Unsanitary?

We repeatedly hear that question from our readers. If you think about it, how can a product that is supposed to make us clean not be sanitary? The short answer is: No. Here’s the scientific evidence for it.

One study found that washing with contaminated bar soap is unlikely to transfer bacteria. The study finishes by recommending the use of bar soap to prevent disease. [22]

Another study shows that when it comes to spreading bacteria through bar soap:

  • Bacteria are not transferred from person to person through bar soap
  • Bar soaps don’t support the growth of bacteria [23]

Conclusion: The difference between liquid and bar soap lies in their ingredients. While bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide, liquid soap is made with potassium hydroxide. Based on our findings, bar soap is the better choice. Its production requires significantly less chemical raw materials and requires far less packaging materials compared to liquid soap. Bar soap lasts us longer since research shows that we use more liquid soap than bar soap. When it comes to the impact on the environment, liquid soap is less efficient to transport and typically comes in a plastic container which is not completely recyclable. Bar soap is safe to use. Bacteria cannot grow on bar soap nor can it spread from person to person.

5. EWG Certified Natural Hand Soaps

We all want beauty products that are safe and non-toxic. The skin is our largest organ and many synthetic ingredients can be absorbed through it.

Studies show that chemicals found in cosmetics and personal care products may act as hormone disruptors and cause reproductive problems. [24]

Researchers are now able to find chemicals in urine samples and trace them back to our use of liquid soap, sunscreen, lotion and cosmetics. [25] These chemicals are known to cause cancer, may cause developmental & reproductive problems, allergies, and harm our immune system. [26]

With the toxins in commercially produced soaps and cosmetics it’s more important than ever to switch to natural products.

Here you can find 3 well-researched liquid hand soaps that are EWG certified, meaning all of their ingredients are completely safe. I invite you to check all of your personal care products on EWG’s Skin Deep Database before using them.

If you’re looking for bar soap, you can find our recommended products in our article: Is Natural Soap Better?

1. Skin Yummies Foaming Hand Soap

INGREDIENTS: Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Aloe Vera, Rosemary Extract, Organic Lemongrass

WHY WE LIKE IT:

  • Aromatic: Lemongrass, Lavender, Citrus Vanilla, Peppermint, Unscented
  • Artificial-fragrance free
  • Also comes in a one gallon refill size

2. Attitude Hand Soap Orange Leaves

INGREDIENTS: Water, sodium coco-sulfate, sodium chloride, coco-glucoside, vegetable glycerin, decyl glucoside, glyceryl oleate, citric acid, watercress extract, indian cress extract, maltodextrin, moringa oleifera seed extract, orange leaf extract, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, decanal (fruit), pentadecalactone (fruit), raspberry ketone.

WHY WE LIKE IT:

  • Generous 16 oz bottle size
  • Hypoallergenic
  • For each product you buy, Attitude plants a tree

3. Be Green Foaming Hand & Body Soap

INGREDIENTS: Distilled Water, CoconutOil, Olive Oil and Jojoba Oil, Aloe Leaf Juice, Vegetable Glycerin, Rosemary Extract.

WHY WE LIKE IT:

  • Available in unscented, citrus, lavender and lemongrass
  • Can also be used as a body soap
  • Free of synthetic fragrances and dyes