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Antibacterial soaps - more hype than health

Antibacterial soaps - more hype than health

Antibacterial soaps are little more than a marketing invention and at worst could actually be doing us harm, says Consumer NZ.

"Ads trumpet the soaps' 99% bacteria-killing power successfully playing on our fear of germs and boosting multi-million dollar sales," says Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin.

"But evidence these products provide any extra benefit is lacking - and there's a chance they are doing us harm by reducing the effectiveness of drugs we rely on to fight infections when we do get sick."

Triclosan and triclocarban are among the most common bacterial agents manufacturers use in their products. Both are being targeted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has said it will require manufacturers to prove antibacterial soaps are safe for everyday use, and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing the spread of infections, Chetwin said.

The antibacterial agents are found in many products on supermarket shelves in NZ from brands like Dettol, Health Basics, Select, Protex and Palmolive, she said.

They are approved for use here but there is growing concern use of antibacterial agents in consumer goods are contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance.

Triclosan has also been found in wastewater here. It's one of the chemicals being tracked by researchers from the government-funded Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research, investigating the environmental effects of ingredients used in common household products.

Project leader Dr Louis Tremblay told Consumer NZ triclosan was an effective broad-spectrum antimicrobial but it should only be used where there was a clear benefit. It was overkill to use it in household soaps.

His advice was, if people wanted to do something for the environment, choose a plain bar of soap.

Studies cited by manufacturers to support claims that washing your hands with antibacterial soap provides any health advantage over using plain soap and water, have largely been dismissed by the FDA.

Chetwin said antibacterial soaps were a solution to a non-existent problem - regular soap and water would get your hands as clean as they needed to be.


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