What are the pros and cons of using antibacterial soaps?

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Antibacterial soap has risen in popularity since the 1980's. It comes in many forms, but most commonly comes in liquid soap with the added ingredient of triclosan, which is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. Handwashing is widely recognized as the most effective method of preventing the spread of disease. Washing with antibacterial soap has pros and cons, The benefits of antibacterial soap are: 

  • Washing with soap and water removes some bacteria, but bacteria grow quickly and multiply. Antibacterial products remove more bacteria. 
  • Antibacterial soaps and products are important for use when caring for patients who have weakened immune systems. They don't have the basic defenses against harmful bacteria that a healthy person does, and therefore they are much more susceptible to disease. Using antibacterial products around such persons can help keep them from getting sick. 

The cons or reasons why using antibacterial soap is not beneficial, are: 

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently said that there isn't enough evidence to prove that antibacterial soaps are better at stopping the spread of disease than regular soap and water. 
  • Manufacturers of antibacterial products have been asked to provide proof that their products do not cause any harmful effects over long periods of time, and they haven't been able to do so. Some studies conducted with animals have suggested links to skin cancer.
  • Manufacturers have also not been able to prove that their products have more efficacy than the use of plain soap and water. They have recently recommended that consumers stick to the use of plain soap and water for handwashing. 
  • Triclosan may cause bacteria to become more resistant. According to the FDA's consumer update from September 2016:

"In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics. The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been closely collaborating on scientific and regulatory issues related to triclosan. This joint effort will help to ensure government-wide consistency in the regulation of this chemical. The two agencies are reviewing the effects of triclosan from two different perspectives." 

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