Plain soap and water is the safest way to wash your hands

Hand-washing is one of our most important public health tools. It can help prevent the spread of many diseases, including the flu, and should be a regular habit we all practice. The good news is that plain soap and water is now recommended as the best, and safest, way to keep clean.

At the beginning of September (2016), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement declaring that ‘over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients can no longer be marketed. Companies will no longer be able to sell antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections.’

The FDA found that the majority of cleaning products claiming to kill bacteria and germs are no better than plain soap and water. The FDA also found that some of the chemicals used in the commercial cleansers, marketed as potent antibacterials, may also be negatively impacting our health.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, a director for the FDA, declared “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more efficient at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”

The FDA is banning 19 different chemicals used in the manufacturing of antibacterial washes. One of the main chemicals being restricted is Triclosan. Some studies have shown Triclosan increases the possibility of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, which is a very dangerous situation. Imagine if you developed a severe infection for which no amount of antibiotic was able to help. The consequences could prove fatal.

A Canadian study found that wastewater often contains Triclosan, which ends up in rivers and streams, and then interferes with the reproduction of plants and animals. If you are thinking what I am thinking, this, of course, does mean that the chemical also negatively affects human health. Yup, that antibiotic wash, for which we thought was so right for us, could be harming our thyroid, causing infertility and may be toxic to an unborn baby. Not good stuff by any means.

High antibacterial agents, such as Triclosan, have also been associated with severe eczema flare-ups. I see a lot of health care workers, like nurses and massage therapists, with awful disease of their hands. The overuse of high antibacterial washes is often the cause, and I counsel all of these patients to avoid their use. Thank goodness plain soap and water is good enough to keep our hands clean and prevent the spread of disease!

So what is the best way to wash our hands? Follow these simple steps as outlined by the Mayo Clinic.

1 Wet your hands with running water — either warm or cold.
2 Apply liquid, bar or powder soap (remember plain soap is sufficient).
3 Lather well.
4 Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. …
5 Rinse well.
6 Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.

My favorite soaps are those using olive and other natural plant-based oils. At home, we like to use Val’s Veggie Bars, which are a 100% olive oil based soap made in Greece, and Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap. Both are inexpensive and can be purchased at stores like Choices market in Vancouver, Surrey, and Abbotsford.

Dr. Erikson uses Chinese herbal medicines to treat a variety of skin conditions. He can be reached by phone at 778.886.1180 or through his website at