Most of our bathrooms are brimming with products we consider essential. From toiletries like toothpaste to shower necessities like shampoo, we tend to keep a plethora of supplies in this one area of the home. But one item you probably keep in your bathroom may be doing more harm than good. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that certain popular soaps can expose you to “unnecessary chemicals.” Read on to find out what you may want to ditch from your hygiene routine.
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We spend a lot of our time in the bathroom getting clean, but that doesn’t mean we’re adhering to the best practices in this space.
In 2021, Apartment Guide conducted an online survey of 3,000 adults in the U.S. to uncover just how hygienic people actually are. The dirty truth is that many of us have some gross bathroom habits. According to the survey, 35 percent of respondents admitted to reusing a disposable razor, 33 percent said they had used a towel for more than a week, and 22 percent had skipped hand washing.
These bad bathroom practices aren’t just a concern for superficial cleanliness or appearance. “Many diseases and conditions can be prevented or controlled through appropriate personal hygiene,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And as it turns out, you might also be putting yourself at risk of harmful hygiene through bathroom products you assumed were safe—including the soap you’re using.
Washing your hands is important for your health and that of those around you: The CDC says it is estimated that one million deaths a year could be prevented if everyone routinely washed their hands.
“Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” Theresa M. Michele, MD, director of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products, said in a statement. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”
But when it comes to improving your bathroom habits in regards to handwashing, the FDA does advise tossing one product altogether: antibacterial soap. According to the agency, there is not “enough science to show that OTC antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness” than just plain old soap and water.
“There’s no data demonstrating that these drugs provide additional protection from diseases and infections,” Michele explained. “Using these products might give people a false sense of security.”
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The biggest issue isn’t a false sense of protection, however. According to the FDA, the main concern is that antibacterial soaps contain a lot of chemicals, which have “raised the question of potential negative effects on your health” due to the common use of these soaps over time.
“Antibacterial soaps (sometimes called antimicrobial or antiseptic soaps) contain certain chemicals not found in plain soaps. Those ingredients are added to many consumer products with the intent of reducing or preventing bacterial infection,” the FDA explained. Per the agency, “manufacturers haven’t proven that these ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time.”
David Seitz, MD, a board-certified physician and the medical director of Ascendant Detox, tells Best Life that many antibacterial soaps contain two concerning chemicals: triclosan and triclocarban.
“These chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors,” Seitz says. “When these chemicals enter the body, they can disrupt the endocrine system. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and immunotoxicity. So it’s important to avoid them if possible.”
In 2017, the FDA ruled that companies could not market OTC antibacterial soaps that contain triclosan to consumers without premarket review from the agency “due to insufficient data regarding their safety and effectiveness.” But approved products containing this chemical may still be harmful through prolonged usage, and antibacterial soaps can contain other concerning chemicals as well.
“If you use these products because you think they protect you more than soap and water, that’s not correct,” Michele said. “If you use them because of how they feel, there are many other products that have similar formulations but won’t expose your family to unnecessary chemicals. And some manufacturers have begun to revise these products to remove these ingredients.”
Seitz also recommends that consumers “stick to plain soaps” instead of trying their luck with potentially harmful antibacterial soaps—especially since there is no evidence that they’re any more effective at preventing illness or infection. “In fact, there is some evidence that they may actually be less effective,” he warns. “So, in my opinion there is no reason to use antibacterial soaps.”
But how can you tell if your soap is antibacterial or not? According to the FDA, OTC antibacterial products generally include the word “antibacterial” on the label. If your soap has a Drug Facts label, that’s usually a sign that it contains antibacterial ingredients. “If an OTC drug contains triclosan, it should be listed as an ingredient on the label, in the Drug Facts box,” the agency said.