The Drawbacks To Antibacterial Soap Use

2832 words - 12 pages

It starts with a single case that makes headlines in the news. An unknown superbug virus with alarming symptoms breaks out not in some small village in India or Africa, but in a small American town in Kansas. Many citizens of first world countries may be especially alarmed at this news because most breakouts occur in third world countries where people are assumed dirty and malnourished. Additionally, developed countries practice good hygiene and use antibacterial products so that should be enough to keep the virus away right? Wrong. In actuality, this practice may lead to a worse case altogether as such products can be the cause of outbreaks, much less the remedy. Soap infused with supposedly bacteria killing agents have only arisen in consumption in the last fifty to one hundred years at most. Statistics now show that such products take up around 70% of the shelf space in stores.1 Despite this drastic increase in antibacterial soap products on the market today and contrary to common belief, studies have yet to show that such products significantly decrease bacteria concentrations any more than regular soap. Instead, research suggests that ingredients in antibacterial products lead to problems such as viral and bacterial resistance and hormonal problems.
Antibacterial products range from anything like hand soaps and lotions to sanitizers and household cleaners. It is important to look at the etymology of the word antibacterial. As a prefix, anti means against, so the word literally means “against bacteria”, or “against germs” as marketers of such products want consumers to believe. The truth in this descriptive word will be reviewed later. The ingredients used in these products fall into two categories, non-residue producing and residue producing. The non-residue producing ingredients act quickly and usually destroy all germs. Some are found in strongly scented hand sanitizers for example. Residue producing ingredients leave substances behind in an attempt to have longer lasting effects. It is this category under which hand soaps lie, which will be the main focus of the research presented. One important residue producing ingredient called triclosan has come under much attention lately because of its popular use and controversial side effects.
To understand the intended purpose of antibacterial ingredients, one must first have a basic understanding of the microbiology of bacteria and viruses as well as the manner in which they invade the human body. It is important to clarify that antibacterial products do not necessarily target bacteria at all. In fact, many sicknesses such as the common cold and influenza are not bacterial, but viral. Perhaps the best way to think of a viral infection is as a competition for reproduction. Viruses exist to replicate themselves, but to do so requires the use of other animals and their living cells. Essentially, these organisms are nothing more than very small packets of DNA or RNA. DNA and RNA encode the...

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