Fact check: “Antibacterial” soaps are worthless

You know how I feel about anything “antibacterial.” It’s just shorthand for poison, in my view. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, these products can’t do anything that plain old soap won’t do. (So don’t worry if you didn’t get your chance to “stock up.”)

So just imagine my reaction when I came across a study, which looked at dozens of antibacterial products, that found labels are still listing banned substances, including triclosan. (That’s the one with links to obesity, thyroid dysfunction, and even poor heart muscle function.)

You can’t see it, but believe me—I’m shaking my head.

Online retailers didn’t get the memo

This new study found, for example, that Walgreens’ website lists triclosan as an active ingredient in Dial Complete soap. Despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the substance several years ago.

In fact, the agency restricted the marketing of 17 antibacterial ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—due to manufacturers’ failure to prove they were any more effective than plain old soap and water. Or that they were safe for long-term use.

And, well… it was a rare moment where I actually had something nice to say about the FDA. Because the fact is, we simply don’t know enough about these ingredients—and what we do know isn’t reassuring at all.

So why are these banned substances showing up on antibacterial product descriptions online? (And not just on Walgreens’ website, either. Researchers searched the National Drug Code Directory and found the same thing on major retail sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Target, too.)

Not to mention, the label on the Dial soap that Walgreens sells states that it “kills more bacteria than ordinary liquid hand soap.” Accompanied by a graphic illustrating a washed hand with fewer bacteria compared to “other” products.

Needless to say, none of this is true. And when asked, Walgreens reported that their current stock of Dial soap did not include any of the banned ingredients. So, they concluded, the information on the website must be from an older label.

But if you ask me, it’s a particularly troublesome oversight at a time like this, when handwashing has taken center stage as one of the most critical forms of protection we have. (Never mind the fact that viruses and bacteria are totally different organisms.)

New doesn’t mean improved

Research has exposed triclosan as an endocrine-disrupting obesogen at best… and a literal heart-stopper, at worst. And if that wasn’t enough, independent studies show that similar ingredients might actually contribute to the creation of drug-resistant superbugs.

Either way, it was serious enough for the FDA to step in. So the fact that online ingredient lists still haven’t caught up with these changes should give consumers everywhere pause.

The fact is, retailers aren’t required to stay on top of these details online. Which is why I always encourage you to take matters into your own hands—because knowledge is power. (Especially if you’re an allergy sufferer or have chemical sensitivities.)

Plus, I wouldn’t expect updated ingredient lists to be much safer, either. Newer antibacterial products contain ingredients like benzalkonium chloride and chloroxylenol. And we won’t really know how harmful these substances are for at least another decade or two.

In fact, the FDA had also considered a ban on benzalkonium chloride—among other ingredients—back in 2016. But that ban is on hold until “more research” is available. (And in typical fashion, manufacturers have gotten not one, but three different extensions at this point.)

Once again, we’ve all been set up to be guinea pigs in big business’ experiments. So don’t fall victim to their games. Instead, join me in washing your hands—well and often—with plain old soap and water. (And continue tuning into my Reality Health Check and monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives, where I’ll bring you all the latest breakthroughs in integrative and nutritional medicine.)


“’Antibacterial’ Soap Labels Still List Banned Ingredients.” Medscape Medical News, 02/04/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/924753)