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Acne Antibacterial Soap: What to Expect

A woman holds a bar of acne antibacterial soap over a sink with running water.

 

Acne is a skin condition that most commonly occurs on the face — but the face isn’t the be-all, end-all of breakouts.

If you’re a chronic acne sufferer, you may have noticed breakouts on other body parts, including your back, chest, arms, and neck. Ultimately, any body part with hair follicles can develop acne.

Wherever excess oil, dirt, dead skin, and bacteria clog your hair follicles, acne is likely to occur. One common way of addressing body acne is by using an acne antibacterial soap.

Does scientific evidence support the use of acne antibacterial soap? Is it an effective tool against body breakouts? Read on to learn more!

Antibacterial Soap vs. Plain Soap

As a frequent acne sufferer, you likely already know cleansing your skin is an important way to prevent breakouts. What you might not know is that the type of soap you use can make all the difference.

Antibacterial soap, also called antiseptic soap, is often used in settings like doctors’ offices, hospitals, daycare centers, and schools to prevent the spread of germs. Antibacterial soaps have an extra ingredient, often a chemical called triclosan, to help kill common bacteria that can lead to infection.

The antimicrobial agent triclosan, sometimes abbreviated TCS, kills bacteria and prevents more from forming. It’s also an antifungal, meaning it prevents the growth of common fungi. In addition to antibacterial soap, triclosan is a common ingredient in deodorants, detergents, toothpastes, and more.

A somewhat controversial chemical, triclosan has been dubbed a “contaminant of emerging concern,” meaning experts consider it a possible environmental and/or public health risk. Some blame triclosan for hormone (endocrine) disruption in humans and animals and worry that the chemical will contribute to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

Triclosan isn’t the only bacteria-fighting ingredient in antibacterial soaps. They may also contain other chemicals added to boost their bacteria-killing power. Here are three of the most common additives:

  • Chloroxylenol is both an antiseptic and a disinfectant. When combined with alcohol, it becomes powerful enough to disinfect surgical equipment. This is a potentially toxic substance for humans and a very toxic substance for many animals, especially cats, so use this chemical with caution. 
  • Benzalkonium chloride, known by the trade name Zephiran, is commonly used in household disinfectants and as a preservative in eye drops. Its chemical properties work quickly to remove surface bacteria, as well as select fungi, viruses, and protozoa. However, it is a skin and eye irritant, and is toxic when ingested by humans or animals.
  • Benzethonium chloride, also known as hyamine, is often used in first aid antiseptics to destroy bacteria on the skin and prevent infection. It’s also effective against viruses, mold, and fungi, and is an active ingredient in many common cosmetics, soaps, and ointments.

While plain soap doesn’t include these added chemicals, it can still be effective against bacteria when used properly. Plain soap may not kill all bacteria, but it is effective at removing bacteria by binding to their cellular walls and making sure they get washed down the drain.

While antibacterial soaps do kill more bacteria, current evidence does not show that they do a better job of preventing illness.

But what about antibacterial soap for acne?

Infographic: Acne Antibacterial Soap: What to Expect

The Science of Acne Antibacterial Soap

Unfortunately, clinical studies have shown that acne antibacterial soap is not effective at treating acne or preventing breakouts.

According to a study conducted at Queen’s Medical Centre, antibacterial soaps do not destroy the primary acne-causing bacteria (P. acnes), and are no more effective at treating breakouts than plain soap.

Even if antibacterial soaps did kill P. acnes, they don’t affect the many other factors that contribute to acne breakouts, including lifestyle choices, skincare routines, hormone levels, gender, family history, and more.

Statements from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) note there is no scientific evidence that definitively proves any of the benefits touted by antibacterial soap. While the investigation of triclosan by the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ongoing, the FDA currently recommends consumers use plain soap and water to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Acne Antibacterial Soap: What to Buy

If you’d like to give acne antibacterial soap a shot without the risk of a potentially harmful element, there are several well-reviewed products with alternative antibacterial ingredients you can try.

When comparing options, play close attention to user reviews. These are often helpful in determining which products are best suited for your skin type and overall goals. But bear in mind that there’s no way of knowing what additional measures reviewers are taking to manage their acne.

Here are a few antibacterial soaps that may treat your acne:

  • 111MedCo 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Soap Bar includes the well-known and long-trusted ingredient benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria and clear clogged pores. Reviewers praise this soap’s effectiveness against acne, but they offer tips for using benzoyl peroxide products — moisturize well to counteract its drying properties and wash off completely to avoid bleaching color from towels.
  • Katialis Soap contains other alternative acne-fighting ingredients: salicylic acid, zinc oxide, and sulfur. Reviewers appreciate this extra-medicated soap option and praise its effectiveness against both acne and other conditions. Some reviewers note that the soap can be drying, and some dislike the scent.
  • Joesoef Soap for Acne, which claims to be “pharmaceutical-quality medicated soap,” leans on sulfur as the primary acne-fighting ingredient. Some aren’t happy about the smell, but according to reviews, this 10% sulfur soap is an effective option for hard-to-treat acne, including cystic and hormonal acne.

Is Acne Antibacterial Soap Effective?

While there is a lack of clinical studies that recommend acne antibacterial soaps, many reviewers swear by these products, including those listed above.

Everyone is different, so you may need to experiment with different products before you find the one that works for you. Remember to consider the reviews: Do any reviewers seem to have a similar skin type to yours? Do they seem to have similar acne troubles to yours?

Whenever you try a new skincare product, be sure to follow its instructions carefully. Start by testing the product on a small patch of skin to ensure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction. If it doesn’t, then proceed to use the product according to its directions the next day.

Acne can be tough, but these acne antibacterial soaps could help!

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