Mary Harrison, DO, is a family medicine resident at Milton Family Practice.

Mary Harrison, DO, is a family medicine resident at Milton Family Practice.

You may have heard that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned antibacterial soaps for household use. You may have wondered: why or how you will effectively clean your hands?

This FDA ruling was shocking to many because antibacterial soaps have been widely used for many years and it was commonly believed that antibacterial soaps were superior to traditional soaps at preventing the spread of germs and therefore safer to use.   Antibacterial soaps are similar to other soaps, but contain added chemicals intended to decrease bacterial infection; however, the ban was initiated because companies selling and marketing these soaps to consumers failed to prove that their products were more effective or safer than regular soaps.

Furthermore, some evidence showed that these products may be harmful when used long term by interfering with your body’s hormones or contributing to antibiotic resistance by making bacteria stronger and more able to withstand our medications. It was this potential for harm that prompted the FDA in 2013 to further study additives in antibacterial soaps. The ban is a culmination of those studies. The ban applies to 19 different ingredients, most notably triclosan and triclocarbon, and covers liquid, foam, and gel hand soaps as well as bar soaps and body washes

So what IS the best way to wash your hands? Handwashing with plain “non-anti-bacterial” soap has been shown to be effective at preventing the spread of infections; however, it is important to practice proper handwashing techniques to get the best effect. The steps to effective handwashing are below:

  1. Wet hands with running water.
  2. Apply soap and lather by rubbing hands together for about 20 seconds (a great way to keep time is to sing the Happy Birthday Song twice in your head). Remember to scrub all areas of your hands including between fingers, under nails, and the back of your hands.
  3. Rinse well with running water.
  4. Air dry or use a clean towel.

We also should know that the ban does not include hand sanitizers or wipes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing greater than 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available. The ban also does not apply to soaps used in facilities that care for vulnerable populations such as hospitals or nursing facilities. Soaps used in these settings require additional testing and proven effectiveness before use is permitted.

Be on the lookout for more updates because additional ingredients are still under review and manufacturers have up to a year to comply with these new rules. In the meantime, you can avoid most of these products by choosing products that do not advertise as “anti-bacterial” or “anti-septic”.

Mary Harrison was born and raised in Nassau County, NY.  She attended Boston University for undergraduate school followed by the University of Vermont for graduate school where she earned a M.S. in biomedical engineering. She then returned to New York for medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine and is very excited to be spending the next three years back in Vermont for residency. She is interested in preventative care, sports medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Outside of medicine, she enjoys cooking, sampling delicious Vermont cheeses, traveling, and staying active by hiking, skiing, and running.

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