How Antibacterial Soaps Work

August 13, 2019

How Antibacterial Soaps Work

Antibacterial soaps have become more and more accessible in recent years. What used to be designated for hospitals and other specific utilizations is now found in over 75 percent of commercially available soaps. So what exactly does it mean when a soap is antibacterial and how does that impact your health?

Today, we will discuss the role of soap, how antibacterial soap differs from traditional soap, when to skip antibacterial soaps, and answer a few commonly asked questions.

What Exactly is “Soap”?

Merriam Webster defines soap as “a cleansing and emulsifying agent made usually by action of alkali on fat or fatty acids and consisting essentially of sodium or potassium salts of such acids”. There are two key takeaways from this definition:

  1. Soaps are used for cleansing.
  2. Soaps are not necessarily antibacterial in nature.

Soap works by lessening the surface tension of water, which allows for dirt, debris, dead skin cells, and oils to be cleansed from the skin. All soaps work to remove bacteria in one way or another. Not all soaps have active antibacterial ingredients.

How Antibacterial Soaps Work

Antibacterial Soap vs. Regular Soap

To further explain the differences between antibacterial and “regular” soap, here is a brief breakdown of how each works.

Traditional soaps rely on mechanical cleansing to lift and remove dirt and other impurities from the skin’s surface. The majority of soaps rely on sodium hydroxide (also known as lye or caustic soda) combined with natural oils or animal fats. This combination causes the lathering effect we all come to expect from soaps.

Antibacterial soaps frequently have the same basic makeup as traditional soaps. The difference is the added, germ killing ingredients. Antibacterial soaps contain active antibacterial ingredients which frequently include triclosan, triclocarban, and/or alcohol. 

In very simple terms, antibacterial soaps are similar to using hand sanitizer whereas traditional soaps are more akin to cleansing the skin. Both will keep your skin clean, but in slightly different ways.

How Antibacterial Soaps Work

Reasons to Avoid Antibacterial Soap

So why would we ever consider soaps which are not antibacterial? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns consumers that antibacterial soap might not only be unnecessary, it might actually be harmful in the long run. Here are a few reasons to avoid or limit antibacterial soap usage.

  • Triclosan: the FDA notes that triclosan actually works to make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Though rare, this can lead to extremely dangerous medical situations where patients are unable to stave off infections.
  • Antibacterial soap does not discriminate: when we think of “bacteria killing agents”, most of us will think that is a positive. Yet your skin requires a healthy level of helpful bacteria to remain strong and healthy. Antibacterial soaps frequently kill helpful bacteria that your body needs.
  • Antibacterial soap is not more effective at killing harmful bacteria: to expound on this idea, antibacterial soaps may not actually be better at killing harmful bacteria than traditional soaps.
  • Antibacterial soaps contain more synthetic chemicals: we understand that many consumers care about keeping their skincare products as natural as possible. Unfortunately, many antibacterial soaps use man-made chemicals which lead to higher cost, greater environmental impact, and even the potential for health problems down the line.

Antibacterial Soap FAQs

Is all soap considered antibacterial soap?

No, not all soaps are antibacterial. It is quite possible for soaps to be effective at removing harmful germs without any dedicated antibacterial ingredients. The CDC recommends washing hands for 20 seconds with traditional soap for best results. 

Should I always use antibacterial soap?

No. As discussed in the previous section, antibacterial soaps are great for certain situations where killing germs is a necessity, but antibacterials should not be used all the time. Standard, non-antibacterial soaps are gentler on skin and promote a healthy skin microbiome. 

Are antibacterial soaps harmful to skin?

There is some evidence that the ingredients found in antibacterial soaps may have negative health impacts. These health concerns include hormone disruption, making bacteria resistant to antibacterial treatment, and more. 

At the end of the day, the FDA has ruled that there is insufficient evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective at killing harmful germs than traditional soaps. If you are looking for a natural, effective, and safe soap for yourself and your family, traditional soaps remain the best option. 

How Antibacterial Soaps Work

All Natural Artisan Soaps from The Yellow Bird

At The Yellow Bird, our mission is to provide natural, high quality products for skin, hair, relaxation, and much more. The decision to avoid antibacterial ingredients in our artisan soaps was an easy one. Our soaps are free of antibacterials, parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes, and GMOs. 

To learn more about how our products can work for you, feel free to read about our story or take a brief skincare quiz to find your ideal skincare product match! You can also explore our catalogue of artisan soaps, including:




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