The medical community discourages indiscriminate, widespread use of antimicrobial products because it is believed to promote the growth of bacteria that is resistant to chemicals used in hospitals as disinfectants.

Consumer products such as soaps and lotions often contain germ-killing antimicrobials, but there is little evidence that they are helpful in preventing infections. While antimicrobial-containing soap and other products can help prevent the spread of infection in hospitals, nursing homes, and newborn nurseries, they are used in a dramatically different way than the consumer products, according to a report from the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs published in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

Surface chemicals have been used effectively for several decades in hospitals under stringent guidelines that require, among other precautions, minutes – not seconds – of exposure, leaving a high concentration of the chemicals on surfaces long enough to do the antimicrobial job necessary. In the home, however, the products leave a residue on the skin, or on surfaces in the kitchen or bathroom in a less-than-effective dose, setting up the perfect condition for the selection of microbes resistant to their action.

According to the doctors, there is “no evidence that additional cleaning or disinfecting power is needed (in the home) beyond that provided by normal cleansers, soap, and water. Instead, the negative consequences stemming from the residues of these compounds present an unacceptable risk to the household.”

The use of antimicrobial-laden products, such as disinfecting hand soaps and lotions, has skyrocketed. It’s estimated that 45% of consumer soaps contain an antimicrobial agent, even though there is no proof the products can prevent infections better than regular soap, the report indicates.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 137 – May/June 2003
Archives of Dermatology 2002;138:1082-1086.