Ask the Pharmacist
by Ron & Marla Chapleau

September 8, 2016


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Q. With the kids going back to school, should I be using an antibacterial soap to keep the germs away?

A. There are many brands of antibacterial soaps out there and their use is becoming as widespread as that of common soap.

People use antibacterial soaps in the hopes that they are helping to reduce the spread of germs but unfortunately there is no scientific data to support that they are any more effective than the use of regular soap and water. In fact, their use is swiftly becoming very controversial.

In the United States, antibacterial soaps and washes that contain triclosan and triclocarbon (which are the most commonly used ingredients amongst these types of soaps) will no longer be allowed to be marketed. This comes after a recent study showed a decrease in thyroid hormone levels after exposure to high doses of triclosan.

Your thyroid hormone is considered the ultimate regulator within your body. It is intimately involved with many functions including your metabolic rate, your temperature, your cardiovascular system and your emotional state of mind. Hence alterations in its levels can have major effects on your well being.

 Triclosan is also the same ingredient that has previously been linked to the possibility of increasing the resistance of bacteria to our various antibiotics. In Canada, a study done in 2012 showed that triclosan found in waste water can interfere with plant and animal growth and reproduction in lakes and streams.

When all these concerns regarding the unwanted and damaging effects of these antibacterial cleansers are coupled together with the lack of evidence that they actually work any better at preventing infections, there is no role for these products in most households (they are however still essential in a health care setting).

 In fact, it is important to point out that it is the technique involved in the washing process itself that helps ward off unwanted germs from our hands rather than the ingredients involved.

As such, a quick reminder of the steps for proper hand washing seems in order.

  •  first wet your hands with running water then turn off the tap (we want to conserve water when we use the soap)

  • apply soap and lather thoroughly between the fingers, under the nails and back of the hands

  • ensure you scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds! (sing the alphabet song or sing happy birthday twice, this is the most important step of the whole process)

  • now rinse the hands well under running water

  • finally, dry the hands using a clean towel or just let them air dry

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There are times when soap and/or running water are not readily available. In these situations, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be beneficial. Keep in mind that it will reduce the germ population on your hands but will not eliminate them.

They are also not great to use when your hands are visibly filthy or greasy. Also, be cautious with their use in children as alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if swallowed.

The fundamental key to infection prevention is to wash your hands regularly (although not with an antibacterial product). Amongst the many facts and figures that I could throw at you, perhaps the most staggering is that experts in London recently predicted that if everybody washed their hands routinely, a million deaths could be prevented annually. Thatís a lot of needless suffering we can actually prevent, for a change.


For more information on this or any other health related topic, contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination in Kincardine and Port Elgin.

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Friday, September 09, 2016