Soap Land

All soaps are not created equal—or, at least, that's what the cosmetic industry tells us. With so many different price points and labels, from antibacterial and antiseptic to soothing and softening, it can be difficult to know what really matters when it comes to choosing the right soap for you.

Let's go through a few of the most common questions about soap, like whether antibacterial soaps really kill germs, the difference between liquid and bar soaps, and the real deal on shea butter in soap.

Do antibacterial soaps really kill more germs?Pixabay/Pezibear

Do antibacterial soaps actually work?

Antibacterial soaps, sometimes also referred to as "antiseptic" or "germ-killing," have been touted in recent years as a great way to avoid spreading or catching contagious viruses. Indeed, it's important to regularly wash with soap and water to avoid infections and illnesses. But are soaps labeled "antibacterial" really better for you?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't think so. In fact, due to the increasing popularity of antibacterial soaps, they recently issued a warning to consumers that there has not been enough research to justify using soaps marketed as "antibacterial" rather than any other kind of conventional soap. There's no compelling evidence, according to the FDA, that antibacterial soaps make much of a difference in terms of hygiene or wellness.

And there might be even more to the story in terms of product safety. Antibacterial soaps typically contain one of two active ingredients: triclosan or triclocarban. The FDA issued a rule in 2016 that these ingredients, along with 17 other common ingredients marketed as antiviral or antibacterial, would no longer be allowed in soaps.

There are concerns that these ingredients are not safe for long-term use, have not been tested with enough frequency, could interfere with endocrine system function, and could even make you more susceptible to viruses over time.

The verdict? Washing with regular soap and water does the job. Don't worry about finding soap with "germ-killing" super-ingredients.

Liquid soaps are popular, but are they more hygienic than bar soaps?Pixabay/congerdesign

Liquid vs. bar soaps

If you're considering whether liquid or bar soap is more hygienic, liquid seems like the obvious choice. After all, if you're sharing a bar of soap in a communal setting like a family bathroom, don't you just spread germs?

That might seem like the common sense answer to the liquid vs. bar soap debate, but studies have repeatedly revealed otherwise. Brave participants who were exposed to millions of common, and dangerous, bacteria over the course of one study had no traces of it left on their hands after washing rigorously with bar soap. More recently, another investigation revealed that bar soap could help to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, indicating that conventional bar soap is powerful stuff.

There are other benefits to bar soap over liquid: Liquid soaps are much harder on the environment. Besides taking more energy and packaging to produce, they leave behind a larger carbon footprint than bar soaps in part because we tend to use far more liquid soap at a time.

Shea butter has soothing and softening ingredients for your skin.Pixabay/silviarita

The verdict on shea butter in soap

Many soaps include natural ingredients like shea butter that claim to soften, soothe, and moisturize the skin. Shea butter, which contains key vitamins like A, E, and F and even a bit of protection from UV rays (SPF 6, to be exact), is extracted from the seeds of the Shea tree.

So, does shea butter really do the job? All the evidence suggests that shea butter does indeed have anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and even healing benefits for your skin. The natural oils in shea butter work as an emollient; they penetrate and moisturize your skin without stripping it as other chemical compounds often do. Moreover, shea butter contains collagen-boosting acids such as linolenic, stearic, and palmitic acids, all of which help your skin appear more youthful.

One study even found that the cinnamic acid in shea butter reduced skin irritation and inflammation with regular use. This means that shea butter-infused soap could be helpful for people with eczema or combination skin, who want to treat both acne and dryness.

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