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Antibacterial Soap

October 18, 2007

Could antibacterial soaps do more harm than good?


A report card for antibacterial soap. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

So-called "antibacterial" soaps are all over supermarket and drugstore shelves. But according to a new, comprehensive scientific review, they don’t work as advertised. University of Michigan epidemiologist Allison Aiello and her colleagues analyzed twenty-seven studies of soaps that contain an antibacterial chemical called triclosan.

ALLISON AIELLO (University of Michigan):
And we looked at efficacy in two different ways: first, we looked at whether these antibacterial soaps reduced infectious illnesses, for example, and then whether they had actually reduced bacterial counts on the hand.

On both counts, consumer-grade antibacterial soaps were no better than plain soaps. What’s more, Aiello says these antibacterial soaps may actually lead to bacteria that are resistant not only to triclosan, but to other antibiotics as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.