Is Antibacterial Soap Unsafe? Some Natural Alternatives to Ease Your Mind

Yes, it’s all over the news – again.  The question resurges “Is antibacterial soap unsafe?”  You may recall it was a pretty big news flash several years ago in regards to how the use of antibacterial soaps could make our bodies more resistant to antibiotics.  This time around, they’re talking about the actual ingredients, namely triclosan.  An article in Reuters this morning states, “The FDA noted that there was no evidence that triclosan could be harmful to people but noted that an animal study showed the chemical may alter hormone regulation and several other lab studies showed that bacteria may be able to evolve resistance to triclosan in a way that can help them also resist antibiotics.”  Perhaps there’s no evidence of the harmfulness on people because no people were tested?  This is not mentioned, but it makes me wonder.  But whether it’s safe or it’s not, I always find some peace of mind by taking the natural road first.  That’s why I thought I’d share a few natural alternatives to antibacterial soaps.  Start out with the natural course, and it very rarely leads you to scary questions and breaking news later.

So what herbs are antibacterial?  There are too many to list here, but some of the most common are:  lavender, rosemary, garlic, and peppermint.  Apple cider vinegar is another natural item that provides antibacterial protection.  Many of our herb friends are not only antibacterial but antifungal and antiviral as well.  (Makes for a pretty good argument of natural versus manmade when you consider there’s no hard evidence that the antibacterial soaps in question actually work!)  And according to the Reference Guide for Essential Oils by Connie and Alan Higley, all essential oils are antibacterial.  Leaves you with quite a selection!

With the addition of a few drops, or a combination of any, of these and other essential oils into a spray bottle of water, you have a pretty fragrant antibacterial spray.  I’d recommend using about a cup of water to 20 drops of oil.  Experiment with blends that you like, and place in a spray bottle.  (Of course don’t spray it in your eyes, eat it, or let your kids play with it.  But you knew that!)

Another favorite of mine is Vinegar of the Four Thieves.  This historical blend was said to protect four thieves from the Black Plague when they used it after robbing the dead bodies of plague victims.  Gruesome story no doubt, and we’re not certain of the truth there, but we do know the components of most Four Thieves recipes are pretty effective.  I blogged one last year, and you can read the recipe for Vinegar of the Four Thieves here.  If you’re not keen on making your own, For My Kids sells a great version I’d recommend.

Then there’s the old standby:  Wash your hands thoroughly with regular soap.  To get the benefits of herbs in there again, get soaps that contain essential oils.  As it turns out, there is a running debate on whether or not the antibacterial soap versions actually work any better than standard soap.  And we’ve learned since childhood that thoroughly washing our hands with soap and water does in fact kill germs and bacteria.  

If you’re still worried about whether or not antibacterial soap is unsafe, natural alternatives are good to keep in mind.  My philosophy has been that if you start out with the natural solution, it doesn’t really matter what the news says.  What is called safe today might be called unsafe tomorrow, but that rarely happens in the herb world.  Yes, there are herbs we need to be careful with, but as in all of life, moderation is key.  The good news is, plants seem to have a much better – and longer – track record for safe and effective use.  I’m more than happy to stick with my botanical friends!

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