We use soap to remove all the dirt, grime, and bacteria we accumulate on our skin throughout the day. To enhance the cleansing properties, sometimes manufacturers add ingredients to make it antibacterial. This helps prevent illnesses and unwanted skin conditions. But how do we make soap antibacterial? Some of the most common ingredients used for this include:
- Benzalkonium chloride
- Benzethonium chloride
Most of these chemicals were made and added to consumer products before knowing what their full effects were. Let’s dive into these chemicals and what we know about them now.
Triclosan was once so commonly used as an antimicrobial agent that it is likely that 75% of the US population has been exposed to it. It’s found in high concentrations in personal care products like toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, surgical soaps, and at one point, over-the-counter soaps. In September of 2016, the FDA banned triclosan from soap products following a risk assessment.
More studies outside of the FDA also showed triclosan to produce adverse effects when absorbed through the skin. Results revealed triclosan may go through biotic and abiotic transformations, which can produce many byproducts. Some of these byproducts were found to be more toxic than triclosan itself, which is an endocrine disruptor in many species and can affect immune responses and cardiovascular functions. Alongside those results, triclosan was also found to contribute to bacterial resistance, thus leading to antibiotic resistance. (1,2)
In September 2016, the FDA also banned triclocarban from being used in over-the-counter hand and body washes because of concerns raised about its endocrine disruptive properties. But it wasn’t only used in everyday soap. It’s a major ingredient in toys, clothing, food packaging materials, food industry floors, and medical supplies. Therefore it’s still able to dermally absorb and can possibly contribute to antibiotic resistance. Triclocarban is also released in wastewater treatment, which leads to it being one of the top water pollutants. (3)
One of three active ingredients that are permitted in over-the-counter antimicrobial soap in the USA, benzalkonium chloride is known to cause toxic effects on the skin, eyes, and in the airways. A study conducted with mice revealed that oral ingestion of the chemical may cause an inflammatory response in the lungs. But when assessing the effects of dermal and systemic exposure of antimicrobial soap, the FDA concluded that the exposure level was very low and below the level of concern. (4,5)
The second of the three active ingredients permitted in over-the-counter antimicrobial soap in the USA, benzethonium chloride has been reported to likely enhance intestinal inflammation with ingestion. As for dermal exposure, erythema, exudation, pruritus, and vesiculation may occur. (6,7)
Chloroxylenol is the last of the active ingredients still permitted in over-the-counter antimicrobial soap in the USA. It is known to cause allergic contact dermatitis and is an alternative to triclosan and triclocarban. In turn, this means its use is now more widespread and can lead to ecological risks in the future due to its discharge in wastewater. (8,9)
What’s a non-toxic alternative?
Based on this information, you can see that the testing shows none of these chemicals are the greatest, but the FDA has deemed that the last three do not have as much dermal absorption and don’t pose a great threat. But what if you’re looking for a more natural option and you really want to stay away from these chemicals altogether and still get antibacterial benefits?
First, you can try just regular, non-antibacterial soap. Soap itself can help remove bacteria and other particles. It does this by disrupting the chemical bonds that allow the molecules to stick to the skin and lifting them away. Soap traps the molecules in micelles, which can then be washed off. (10)
If you’re looking for an antibacterial alternative that’s natural, try our ozonated oil soaps! We infuse ozone, a natural, non-toxic disinfectant, into organic oils like olive, jojoba, and coconut to handcraft a clean, natural soap. Ozone has been used for different disinfectant purposes because of its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, as well as for managing and preventing different skin disorders. This makes it the perfect addition to soap. Not only does ozone have antibacterial and beneficial skin properties, but the oils we use to make the soap do, too. With our soaps you’ll have ultra-clean skin without the worry of your skin absorbing unwanted chemicals.