Doctor warns ingredients in some antibacterial soaps could weaken immune system

A UK doctor has warned that two ingredients sometimes found in antibacterial handwash could be weakening your immune system.

Dr Diana Gall, of online service Doctor-4-U, says you should watch out for antimicrobial ingredients triclosan and triclocarban when choosing which soap to buy.

‘It’s all very well that people are trying to stockpile antibacterial handwash. But it’s been proven that certain antibacterial and antifungal agents which are added to some products can have adverse effects on the immune system,’ Dr Diana explains.

‘Look out for triclosan and triclocarban on labels before purchasing antibacterial handwashes.’

She says that these strong, man-made chemicals can strip the skin of useful bacterias which live on it to protect our bodies – which can reduce our immune safety net.

Triclosan and triclocarban are antimicrobials originally developed in the 1960s to target the growth of bacteria and are commonly found in consumer products such as soaps, detergents and toothpaste.

Why it’s so important to wash your hands

Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects, which can spread illnesses such as food poisoning, flu, diarrhoea and, of course, coronavirus.

Washing your hands can help stop people picking up infections and spreading them to others.

It can also help stop spreading infections when you’re visiting someone in hospital or another healthcare setting.

In 2016 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put a ban on the sale of antibacterial hand washes containing both compounds.

While there has been no official ban on products containing them in the UK, certain brands have limited their use.

But with some handwashes still containing both triclosan and triclocarban, Dr Gall is advising members of the public to always check the ingredients.

‘While these handwash ingredients are not deadly, the use of them every day could break down defences which could put you more at risk of contracting coronavirus,’ she explains.

What should you do if your soap contains these ingredients?

Just how worried should we be about this claim?

For many of us, our choice of soap in the shops is incredibly limited as shelves are so bare. So if you spot these ingredients on your hand soap, what should you do?

The crucial thing to remember is that you should still be washing your hands regularly – even while keeping this warning in mind. You need to wash your hands before leaving the house, as soon as you return home, before eating, and after touching anything that could carry germs.

This is the best way to keep yourself and others safe from coronavirus. If soap with these ingredients is your only option, then definitely still use the soap.

In fact, Mr Parvinder Sagoo, pharmacist and clinical advisor at SimplyMeds, says this warning isn’t any reason to panic, or to change your hygiene behaviour.

‘There have been studies conducted in the past about how ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban have been linked to certain allergies in users, however not enough research has been done on the effects it has on the body,’ Parvinder tells

‘Furthermore, triclocarban is used in many household products such as clothing, kitchenware and toys, so if it was of any worry I’m certain it would have been further researched by now.

‘We should not be sending out any messages that a person is “too clean”. It is imperative that every person washes their hands as much as they feel they need to, to try and prevent further spreading of Covid-19.’

Parvinder suggests that if you are worried about the ingredients in antibacterial soap, you can always opt for a plain bar soap which will be kinder to the skin and will be sufficient to get rid of germs.  

‘If you are a key worker or healt care worker and find you are washing your hands a lot more, and with antibacterial soap, I would suggest being really careful when it comes to washing,’ he adds.

‘Don’t rush as this could cause the soap to splash back up to the face, try not to inhale the soap, and at home opt for a plain bar of soap for hands and body.’

Remember, you still need to be washing your hands for 20 seconds every time, and you should use moisturiser regularly to prevent dryness and cracks in the skin.

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