Skip to main content

It’s ingrained in us to wash our hands. When it wasn’t our mother telling us when were younger, it was the sign in public bathrooms, which became the little voice inside our head that never lets us forget: “Go wash your hands!”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us the simple act of washing your hands can prevent a lot of sickness and the transfer of toxins from surface to another.

But speaking of toxins, did you know that not only should you wash your hands, but you should also wash your hands with clean soap? Clean soap? I’m sure many of you are thinking, isn’t all soap clean? Think again.

Clean is a common word used to describe toxin-free products. Toxin-free means exactly what it sounds like, products that aren’t toxic.

So, back to the hand washing soap. Sadly, yes, there are soaps that may be doing more harm than good when it comes to truly keeping you clean and disease free. There are ingredients that can be found in many soaps that are toxic and can be linked to several health repercussions. If you’re asking yourself, where do I go from here? Let me help you out a bit.

When it comes to hand soap, here are the ingredients to stay away from:

01. Triclosan

Triclosan is a chemical added to many different products, including hand soap, toothpaste, and hand sanitizer, because of its antibacterial properties. Since triclosan came onto the market, however, studies have shown that this particular chemical could cause a build-up in bacterial resistance. It also can be a potential endocrine disruptor, which is another name for a hormone disruptor known to be associated with development of learning disorders, cancers, and even some birth defects. Skeptics may wonder just how likely washing your hands is to cause such disease. Safer is better than sorry, right?

And thankfully several studies have shown that antibacterial hand soaps are not any more effective than non-antibacterial soap and water. Even the FDA has recognized the potential danger of Triclosan. In 2017, the FDA released its final rule about Triclosan and other active ingredients, saying that because of the insufficient data regarding their safety and effectiveness, products cannot come to market without review. Companies have one year to take Triclosan out of their antibacterial soap. However, consumers should still be checking the labels of soap to confirm.

02. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

SLS is a synthetic detergent and emulsifying agent added to products, such as hand soap. It is cheap and makes the soap foamy, which we, as consumers, have been trained to think means we are clean! However, this ingredient can often be a skin irritant because it blocks the skin’s production of natural oil necessary to replenish the skin in these areas.

03. Fragrance

Under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), the FDA requires a list of ingredients for any product sold to consumers, whether in person or online. However, this law does not force a company to disclose “trade secrets.” With fragrance being a complex mixture of different natural and synthetic ingredients specific to a certain product or brand, it is characterized as a “trade secret.” This means that what might be fragrance on one bottle is not necessarily the same fragrance on another bottle. And, more importantly, we, as consumers, do not even know what is in these fragrances.

In 2010, the International Fragrance Association published a list of all 3,163 ingredients that are often found under the label “fragrance.” However, according to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, “1 in 20 [ingredients] earned a ‘high’ hazard score (7-10 of 10), and a full 1 in 6 rated at least a ‘moderate’ hazard score (3-10 of 10). 25 of them scored a 10, the highest score.” Of this long list of ingredients, several of them were known phthalates, octoxynols, and nonoxynols, which are known endocrine disruptors and/or break down into persistent endocrine disruptors. Franky, fragrance should be avoided completely by consumers when it’s found within any label.

Thankfully, using products that avoid these ingredients isn’t hard these days. You may be surprised to see that what you randomly picked off the shelf at Target, is completely fine. Apps like the Environmental Working Group’s app, Healthy Living, allow you to scan the back of a bottle in order to learn the rank of a product (10 means avoid, 1 means you’re clear to use). There are ratings for over 120,000 personal care products on this app, with details about why a product may be okay or relatively toxic.

And if you’re still not sure, here are a few of my own personal suggestions for you:

For those who love the ease of Target or Amazon: Everyone Hand Soap. This has been one of my family’s solutions to finding a cleaner soap. We truly love each of the varieties we have tried—from Lavender Coconut in the bathroom to the Meyer Lemon and Mandarin in the kitchen. Plus, it’s price point fits into our family budget and can be found at Target or on Amazon, two places I frequent often. SCORE!

For those who love foam: Brooklyn Herborium Clean and Green Hand Soap. Full disclosure: A dear family friend partnered with a colleague and started this healthy and holistic skincare and home cleansing line out of Brooklyn. I have been using several of their products for a while, but really love the ease and smell of this soap. Plus, my kids love the handful of foam they get to “play with” while they’re washing their grimy hands after being outside. And it also comes in a travel version, so I often throw it in my diaper bag for use in public restrooms.

For those who love a great bang for your buck: Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap. For a company who has been around since 1948, I’m sure that you’ve seen a bottle or two of this soap in someone’s home or on a grocery store shelf. It’s a soap that you can use, not only on your hands and body, but as a shampoo, all-purpose cleaner, in your laundry, and more. For your hands, you can add some to a soap dispenser with water to dilute it a bit and make the giant bottle last longer, or you can use it straight. The soap comes in many scents and can often be found at Target or on Amazon!

For those who love using a bar of soap: Makes 3 Organic Soap. I haven’t tried this exact soap, but EWG’s Healthy Living app (my go-to for a resource on new-to-me, clean products) has rated this product as EWG verified. This means it ranks among those products that EWG has tested and found to have the fullest transparency for its ingredients, to avoid ingredients of concern, and to have a good manufacturing process. The scents that it comes in intrigue me, and I like the look of having a bar of soap in my bathroom. Needless to say, this will probably be my next choice once my current bar of soap finishes up. I’m thinking I’ll try the Eucalyptus Cedarwood.