Antibacterial Soap- Overrated and Overused
Written and Edited by Lynn Loheide and Margo Dellaquilla
Let’s talk about soap! Particularly antibacterial soap. It’s an amazing product isn’t it? Many kill 99.9% of all bacteria- that means it’s super clean! So, it’s awesome for keeping your piercings super clean too, right? I mean, it has to be, because piercers have suggested it for care for years! Well, not so much. In recent years, particularly the last 7, the FDA has done extensive research into antibacterial products, namely soaps. And what we have discovered is that this ‘miracle’ product isn’t such a miracle. In fact, in most cases, it hurts more then it helps.
On September 6, 2017 the Food and Drug Administration passed a ban on a list of 19 different antibacterial chemicals commonly found in hand soap and wash. This ban stated that the companies had failed to prove the chemicals were safe for long term use, or that they were not anymore beneficial then regular soap and water, and were to no longer be used in those products. Triclosan, one of the most common chemicals found in popular antibacterial soaps, was among the top ingredients covered in that ban. This made most readily available antibacterial soaps no longer safe to use. Many experts applauded the ban, which came only after many years of research and concerns that the overuse of these chemicals were causing more harm then good. Evidence has suggested antibacterial chemicals can have harmful effects on hormones, children, and even lead to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. During the studies, these same chemicals were discovered in peoples’ bloodstreams, in breast milk, in newborn babies, and even in common house dust and water. The overuse of them is spreading across the world, without an accurate understanding of what they’re meant for and what harm can really do. Many of the companies currently producing those antibacterial soaps and products lobbied to keep the chemicals legal but it wasn’t successful. Although they wanted to keep their products the same, they were forced to change the products ingredients. Which happened with good reason because even after years of studies, there is inconclusive evidence to prove they were effective in the first place. There have been even less findings to prove they are safe for long term human exposure.
The following is the FDA’s official statement:
“Food and Drug Administration (FDA, we, or the Agency) is issuing this final rule establishing that certain active ingredients used in over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic products intended for use with water (referred to throughout this document as consumer antiseptic washes) are not generally recognized as safe and effective (GRAS/GRAE) and are misbranded. FDA is issuing this final rule after considering the recommendations of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee (NDAC); public comments on the Agency’s notices of proposed rulemaking; and all data and information on OTC consumer antiseptic wash products that have come to the Agency’s attention.“
An important distinction to note is that the ban is only directed at commercial washes intended for hand washing or body washing. This ban is not for first aid antiseptics or antiseptics for use in food prep and the food industry. This is just for products used by consumers, usually at home and for personal use, and on a frequent or daily basis. The reasoning behind that is the US is a generally healthy country, most of us have functioning immune systems and don’t benefit from the level of chemicals commonly found in these products. Beyond them being not recognized as safe or effective, we simply just don’t need them. The risk of genuine infections on a day to day basis for the average American is very low. We talk about this in relation to piercings constantly- we hear clients say “my piercing is infected!” fairly often when in fact that’s rarely the case. Typically, the piercing is just irritated, perhaps you bumped or snagged it and its now become red or swollen. Think about it- how many actual infected wounds have you had in your life? If you didn’t see a doctor and receive antibiotics to treat it, more than likely it wasn’t an infection at all. Now there are exceptions to the rule and clients who work in extreme situations (such as infectious nurses, clients working heavily with animals, etc) who may benefit from the use, but even then it’s not normally needed. Most of us simply aren’t encountering such harmful bacteria in our day to day lives that we need to douse ourselves or our piercings in these harsh chemicals.The 19 ingredients included in the ban are listed below:
Iodophors (Iodine-containing ingredients)
Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate) Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
Phenol (less than 1.5 percent)
For us, we are focusing on Triclosan, as it was a primary ingredient in Dial Gold, a commonly suggested soap for piercing aftercare. It is also in face wash products from Cetaphil, a largely popular “mild” face soap people use when healing facial piercing. For many years both these products (particularly dial gold) have been suggested for use on piercings; years ago it was common to recommend even trying to get the soap inside the piercing as part of the aftercare. Yikes! Like everything surrounding us, the piercing industry has greatly evolved and modern piercing has come a long way from where it once was. Now we know better, and realize not only are they unnecessary for your piercings, the very premise of them isn’t that effective in your day to day life either! Unfortunately this outdated advice still gets passed along by word of mouth, the internet, and even some outdated piercing and tattoo shops. The Association of Professional Piercers has updated it’s care to suggest against harsh soaps, also singling out triclosan: “ Avoid using harsh soaps, or soaps with dyes, fragrances, or triclosan. “ The suggestion for harsh soaps came out of fear of infections in piercings, but as we’ve addressed above, while that fear is valid, it’s also not that great of a concern to warrant these chemicals.
In summary, antibacterial soap is not ideal for a healing body piercing, and beyond that isn’t really necessary or even proven beneficial for regular, daily use. We’ve included the list of removed chemicals so you can check this article if your buying soap you may use around your piercings to check what to look out for and avoid!
Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 45, Issue Supplement_2, 1 September 2007, Pages S137–S147 FDA Docket Number- FDA-1975-N-0012 https://www.safepiercing.org/aftercare.php