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Antibacterial Soaps – you find them everywhere. I’ve seen them in gas station bathrooms, hospitals, schools, friends’ homes, you name it – if there’s a high-traffic bathroom it’s likely to have antibacterial soap being dispensed. Marketed toward moms, especially those with small children, they are hyped as something that will protect us from horrible germs, especially colds and flu, and we will be much safer using them.
The truth is all that hype is just one big joke. Too bad it’s not an April Fool’s joke, unfortunately it’s real. Hand washing is a time-tested, centuries-old method for preventing the spread of disease. However it isn’t the soap that’s the most important part. The main mechanism for getting rid of germs? It’s the action of scrubbing your hands under running water for 20-30 seconds.
Soap helps get rid of actual dirt by mixing with the dirt and lifting it off your skin so it can wash down the drain. But the germs – those nasty viruses and bacteria you pick up from doorknobs, toilets, diapers and your own nose – those need good old fashioned scrubbing to get them off our hands.
Antibacterial soaps are actually harmful for several reasons. 1) They give us a false sense of security. We think that since we (or our kids) are using a medicated soap then we don’t have to worry if our hand washing technique is thorough enough. The truth is that colds and flu are caused by viruses which aren’t harmed at all by antibacterial soaps. 2) They are creating a bigger problem by encouraging antibiotic resistance. We get in a panic over one case of ebola coming into the country and yet 23,000 people die every year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. The overuse of antibacterial substances is partly responsible for this serious problem. 3) The soap dispensers themselves are passing along more germs than were originally on people’s hands BEFORE they washed them!
Your best bet is to bring along your own clean container of plain soap, and use that with plenty of running water to scrub your hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday.
Now that you are well-informed on the subject of hand washing – take a look at all the other great posts on this week’s Wellness Wednesday!