There are so many types of hand cleansing products out there these days: traditional soaps, antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer. With the kids back in school and cold & flu season right around the corner, it is the perfect time to discuss how these all work and choose what is right for you and your children. So let's determine once and for all: Is all soap made equal?
How Does Soap Work?
An ancient relic you say? Well, I think these are one of my favorites! With all of the lovely scents and shapes to choose from, they make the bathroom a luxurious place to make those hands germ-free. OK, so down to business: how does soap work? Soaps are comprised of molecules which have opposing ends: a hydrophobic (meaning “water-fearing”) tail and a hydrophilic (meaning “water-loving”) head. When lathered and mixed with water, these molecules arrange themselves into tiny spheres (called micelles) with the water-fearing tails aligned towards the inside of the sphere and the water-loving heads facing the outside. This orientation creates a happy environment for water-insoluble types of grime (think unwanted oils) and germs. The micelles pull these unwanted materials away from your hands and into the micelle which are then washed away with the water thereby leaving your hands clean and fresh.
Antibacterial Soaps - Friend or Foe?
Antibacterial hand soaps contain ingredients similar to traditional soaps, with one exception: they contain chemicals (usually synthetic) which have been scientifically shown to kill bacteria. This mechanism is different than that of the traditional soap which removes germs from your hands by a purely mechanical means. These products were hot on the market for the last few years, but recent evidence has suggested that the addition of synthetic chemicals does not greatly increase the effectiveness of the soap. Additionally, there has been environmental concern over the use of some of the major antibacterial chemicals and evidence has suggested that triclosan, a widely used antibacterial chemical, poses a high risk for bio-accumulation in the Great Lakes Ecosystem. Another downside to the use of these chemicals is the potential for antibacterial resistance which would render the antibacterial chemicals to be less effective and the bacteria to be more virulent over time. This option is out there for you, but I don’t personally believe the benefits outweigh the risks so I tend to avoid these whenever possible.
Hand Wash vs Hand Sanitizers
And finally, last but not least are the products that have a permanent home in my purse: hand sanitizers. These products work completely differently than traditional soaps. These are meant to be applied to your hands and not washed off. They contain antiseptic ingredients (such as alcohol) which have been scientifically shown to kill bacteria. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are recognized by Health Canada as safe and effective way to kill harmful bacteria or germs. Sounds fantastic, right? Well they do have a downside, which makes them somewhat inferior to traditional soap. While they kill germs, they obviously cannot remove other forms of grime. So these products are great to prevent the spread of illness, but are not so effective if your child is regularly getting messy, such is the case with my toddler!
So with all those products out there, I have to say that traditional soap is still my go-to cleanser. What about you? And what do you think: is all soap made equal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!