Men do worse than women -- just 77 percent washed their hands, compared with 93 percent of women. However, both numbers are up -- the last time the survey was done, in 2007, only 66 percent of men washed, and 88 percent of women.
USA Today reports:
“The study ... involved discreetly observing 6,028 adults in public restrooms in August to see whether they washed their hands. Hand washing is important especially because ... many respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses are transmitted primarily by hand contact”.
Despite the headline, my comment will not dwell on the differences between sexes as I believe that to be a moot issue, but rather on hand washing in general.
Overall, the number of people who regularly wash their hands seem to have risen in the past couple of years, and that’s great news, because washing your hands is your number one protection against the acquisition and spread of infectious disease.
It has been shown time and time again that washing your hands with soap and water can kill germs that cause:
- The common cold
- Hepatitis A
- Acute gastroenteritis
- Stomach infections such as salmonella, campylobacter and norovirus
- Other contagious illnesses and surgical wound complications, including MRSA
Unfortunately, despite the fact that simple hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections, it’s still the most common violation in hospitals.
So, if you’re in a health care setting, whether a hospital, health care center or nursing home, one way to proactively protect your health is to ask nurses and doctors to wash their hands before they touch you.
However, there are two important factors I’d like to remind you of in this article.
First, it’s important to use proper hand washing technique, and second, using the right kind of soap.
Because contrary to popular belief, you do NOT want to use antibacterial soaps when washing your hands, and I’ll discuss the many reasons why below.
Proper Hand Washing Technique
Good old-fashioned hand washing is one of the oldest and most powerful antibacterial treatments. Despite all our medical advancements and the introduction of microbial soaps and harsh disinfectants, plain soap and water still can’t be beat.
To make sure you’re actually removing the germs when you wash your hands, follow these guidelines:
- Use warm water
- Use a mild soap
- Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, for at least 10 or 15 seconds
- Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and around and below your fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly under running water
- In public places, use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that the handles may harbor
It’s also important to remember that your skin is actually your primary defense against bacteria -- not the soap. So resist the urge to become obsessive about washing your hands.
If you wash them too harshly, too frequently, you can actually extract many of the protective oils in your skin, which can cause your skin to crack and potentially even bleed.
This is completely counterproductive and only invites trouble.
While it’s rare for a infectious agents on your skin to cause a problem (it is typically only an issue when you transfer that to your nose, mouth or an open wound like cracked skin), obsessive-compulsive washing can actually increase your risk of getting sick by providing an entryway for potentially dangerous pathogens through the cracked skin. This is especially true in the winter or in dry environments where humidity levels frequently drop below 10 percent.
So remember, mild to moderate washing is all you need.
Why You Do NOT Need Antibacterial Soap for Optimal Protection
This may be difficult to swallow for some people because of highly successful advertising, but you do not need anything other than plain, mild soap.
A massive market has been created based on the premise that germs must be eradicated and that they’re hard to kill. Advertising has therefore convinced many that “clean” equals sterile. As a result, many believe that regular soap just isn’t good enough--they need antibacterial soap. And antibacterial dish washing liquids, and disinfectant sprays and gels...
Unfortunately, none of these items are at all necessary. You’re just paying for the privilege of having been brainwashed...
But it is important to understand that not only are antibacterial soaps not good, they actually make the problem worse by creating more resistant, hardy bacterial strains. Additionally, these chemicals are toxic exposures that your body must address.
Studies have shown that people who use antibacterial soaps and cleansers can often develop a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms just as often as people who use regular soaps.
Part of the reason for this is because most of these symptoms are actually caused by viruses, which antibacterial soaps can’t kill.
But even for symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, which may be caused by bacteria, those who used regular soaps still had no greater risk than those who used antibacterial products.
So, antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary for the purpose of washing away bacteria.
But there’s more.
They can actually cause far more harm than good by promoting the development of resistant bacteria.
Yes, many scientists now fear that the widespread use of antibacterial soaps and various disinfecting products may be contributing to the rise in "superbugs," bacteria that are resistant to modern medicines.
The antimicrobial triclosan, for example, is known to promote the growth of resistant bacteria.
Even the American Medical Association (AMA) does not recommend antibacterial soaps for this very reason.
Additionally, many traditional medical circles now accept the hygiene hypothesis, which centers on the idea that children NEED to be exposed to some bacteria in early childhood in order to strengthen their immune systems. Children who are not exposed to common bacteria (which are wiped out by antibacterial soap), may become more prone to allergies and asthma as they grow.
But aside from that, the active ingredient in many antibacterial products, such as triclosan, can be hazardous in and of itself as well.
The Health Hazards of Triclosan
Triclosan, an antibacterial compound that acts as the active ingredient in most antibacterial soap, not only kills bacteria, it also has been shown to kill human cells.
In addition, these products kill both bad AND good bacteria, which is another explanation for how they contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and potentially also to allergic diseases like asthma and hay fever.
Triclosan has also been shown to act as an endocrine disrupter.
The results from one 2006 study indicated that triclosan makes thyroid hormones much more potent, speeding up their impact. It may also make protein receptors more sensitive to thyroid hormones.
And there’s more...
The Dangers of Triclosan and Triclocarban are Far-Reaching
I posted a report back in 2005 warning about the compounding danger of using triclosan-containing products with chlorinated tap water. You see, when triclosan is mixed with the chlorine in tap water, chloroform is formed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified chloroform as a probable human carcinogen.
When conducting testing that closely mirrored typical dishwashing habits and conditions, researchers found that triclosan reacts with free chlorine to generate more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) of chloroform in your dishwater.
According to researchers, when combined with other disinfection byproducts (DBPs) the additional chloroform could easily drive the concentration of total trihalomethanes above the EPA's maximum allowable amount.
Moreover, as these antimicrobial chemicals flows down your drain, they further contaminate the environment, and become part of the food chain.
Researchers have determined that about 75 percent of another popular antimicrobial, triclocarban (TCC), resists water treatments meant to break it down and ends up in surface water and in municipal sludge used as fertilizer.
TCC is also known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.
Releasing antimicrobials into the environment in this manner is yet another way that antimicrobial soaps contribute to the increase in resistance of pathogens to clinical antibiotics.
Why Use Something that Has NO Clear Health Benefits and Plenty of Health Hazards?
The research clearly shows that you do not need antimicrobial soap to effectively protect yourself from germs. All you need is plain soap and warm water.
Studies have also found that soap and water work better than the waterless, alcohol-based hand wipes and rubs.
So please, avoid making the mistake of using antibacterial soaps and other products containing these hazardous ingredients.
Instead, just use a gentle soap that is safe for your whole family -- and the environment too. Local health food stores typically carry a variety of natural soaps that will do the trick.
We have been researching this for some time now and hopefully we will be able to provide a high quality safe and organic soap bar that you can use to keep yourself and your family clean.