Antibacterial hand soap just as effective as the plain stuff

Back in December of 2013, the FDA proposed a rule change for manufacturers of consumer-grade antibacterial soaps in response to the growing concern of the risks of antibacterial products with not much data on the benefits.  The FDA would like the soap makers to demonstrate that washing with antibacterial soap is actually more effective at preventing infection than washing with regular soap.  If they can't show evidence of a greater benefit, then they would have to relabel their soap products.  

At the time, the most popular way to test an antibacterial product was to observe if it inhibited microbial growth in an overnight time period.  But, the FDA said this didn't reflect real life where, on average, people spend only 6 seconds(!) washing their hands (the CDC recommends 15-20).  So, the FDA proposed better guidelines to measure effectiveness, including clinical outcomes studies with shorter time-kill testing.

Researchers at Korea University in Seoul have just published a study evaluating one of the most common antiseptic agents, triclosan, notably, using the FDA guidelines.   Triclosan is found in many OTC antibacterial hand soaps and is so common, studies have shown that 75% of adults have some amount of it in their bodies.  It has also been linked to the development of drug resistance.

The researchers found that the consumer-grade antibacterial soap with triclosan did no better than the plain soap in a real world scenario.  They tested triclosan both in vitro in the lab, and in vivo by artificially inoculating subjects hands with Serratia marcescens and testing them before and after hand washing.  The in vitro tests showed that one would need to be exposed to triclosan for at least 9 hours before there would any benefit using it over plain soap.  The good news from the hand washing tests is that washing with soap for 30 seconds in general results in a significant reduction of bacteria, but the triclosan soap did no better than the regular one.  (This was not true for higher concentrations of triclosan, as used in soaps in hospitals, which was more effective in killing bacteria, especially when used for a longer time such as the longer hand scrubbing protocol hospital workers follow.)

So, regular soap is fine, but maybe try washing for a little longer!