STONE: Wash, wash and then wash again - Odessa American: Levi Stone

STONE: Wash, wash and then wash again

By Levi Stone, RN, MSN Chief Nursing Officer | Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2019 4:30 am

Who knew there was a week dedicated to raising awareness about handwashing? Yep, me neither. But, there is such a thing and it starts today and runs through December 7th. The timing is perfect as we head in the thick of cold and flu season and a busy holiday travel season. As we scramble toward the sink to wash those hands, it’s a perfect opportunity to evaluate the type of soap we’re using and how it might impact the bigger picture of the world of infectious diseases.

Not all soaps are created equal and, like tools, can be as unique to the job at hand. Take for instance a mechanic using pumice soap to remove tar, grime, and oil from his hands versus a mother using a mild, hypo-allergenic to cleanse her newborn baby. Interchangeably, the mild, hypo-allergenic soap would not be effective for the mechanic’s needs and the pumice soap would certainly be way too harsh on a baby’s skin. This same train of thought should be considered when using soaps in everyday, routine hand washing. The soaps we use should be enough to get the job done, without overdoing it.

For typical, routine hand washing, experts recommend plain soap and running water as one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of germs and illness. With so many options available for consumers to choose from, it can be confusing or even misleading when picking the right soap. Those labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” might sway a consumer to purchase that product, thinking they are getting a more effective product. However, there isn’t enough science to back this claim. In fact, the chemicals and added ingredients that make these soaps “antibacterial” and “antimicrobial” may actually be doing more harm than good. So much so, that the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have taken notice and interceded on the issue.

As part of ongoing studies and reviews, the FDA proposed rules several years ago requiring manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps to demonstrate that their products were safe for long-term, daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of infection. The studies concluded that there was not enough sufficient evidence provided to the FDA to substantiate that antibacterial soaps are any better than regular soaps for everyday use. Furthermore, the FDA identified 19 particular chemicals that data suggests could pose certain health risks from long-term exposure, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.

In regards to the 19 chemicals, the FDA has handed down a directive for soap manufacturers to eliminate these ingredients from their products over the next year. Also, companies will no longer be able to market their products as “antibacterial”, “antimicrobial”, or “antiseptic” as a result of these changes. As consumers, we must educate ourselves on these products and understand how their continued use may cause a negative ripple effect, open the door to a wider range of issues.

One major concern, from a healthcare prospective, is how the long-term, over use of these products has been a contributing factor in the emergence of so called “super bugs” or bacteria that have become resistant to certain chemicals over time. Like all living organisms, bacteria can evolve and become stronger to certain environments and exposures. An example is how the misuse and over utilization of antibiotics, over the years, has led to bacteria mutating into different strains that are no longer susceptible to once front-line antibiotics that were used to treat them. Antibacterial soaps are proving to be another agent to which bacteria are becoming less-sensitive to the ingredients found in these products.

The FDA has indicated nearly 40% of the soap products available to consumers contain at least one of the banned chemicals. Among all antibacterial soaps, two of the more common ingredients to look for are triclosan and triclocarban. It’s important to know what’s in your soap and begin choosing plain soap over products with these chemicals.

Hand washing is still among the best ways to reduce germs and we should never lose sight of just how important it is at keeping illnesses at bay. And, it doesn’t have to be complicated, regular, plain soap is simply the best way to go for your routine hand washing needs.