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Are Antibacterial Soaps Worth It?

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By Sarah Krupp / Divine Caroline

Make no mistake about it. They are everywhere. Your body is swimming in them, the keyboard on your computer is blanketed, and that five-dollar bill you handed to the cashier before eating your scone is a virtual minefield. Bacteria are omnipresent.

I have two friends with vastly different approaches to these microscopic threats. One believes the best way to beat them is to commune with them and recommends - only half jokingly - eating off the kitchen floor once a week to build up the ol’ immune system.

The other friend washes his hands incessantly and refuses to take public transportation for fear of infection. He tries not to touch anything. And although this approach is stringent, the truth is, we Americans are becoming more and more like friend number two. We open restroom doors with paper towels and disinfect after every handshake. In short, we are becoming a nation of germaphobes.

Fearing the insidious little creatures that make us sick, but knowing we can’t dodge them all, we aim to destroy them with an arsenal of antibacterial hand soaps, detergents, toothpaste, and even mattresses and toys. It seems logical to want total eradication of the microorganisms that cause illness, infection, and in extreme circumstances, death - unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

More Harm Than Good
For starters, there is little proof that the antibacterial soap you buy at the drug store actually kills the most-dreaded microbes: S. aureus (staph) and E. coli. Plus, living in a disinfected bubble can actually be bad for your health and the environment. Many experts believe that too much sanitation weakens the immune system and may create lethal superbugs that are antibiotic resistant. If that’s not enough, the bacteria-killing chemicals go down the drain and into our waterways, harming wildlife and potentially ending up back in our bodies where they can present health risks.

Although you have likely heard at least some of this before, you probably still reach for the antibacterial soap to clean your bathroom and wash your hands. The psychological draw is undeniable.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.