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Is Antibacterial Soap Safe?

Still scrubbing with antibacterial soaps? You may be better off switching back to plain old suds, says a University of Michigan research team. In a review of 27 studies, Allison Aiello, the lead researcher, determined that most antibacterial cleansers probably don't kill more bacteria or fight off infectious illness any better than regular soaps.

Some antibacterial soaps could even squelch the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs, Aiello warns. Scientists have yet to detect such changes at the population level, but lab tests have shown that E. coli bacteria can become drug-resistant when exposed to the amount of triclo­san found in most commercial cleansers.

If you still feel better washing with an antibacterial, consider soaps made with tea tree oil, suggests Donald Abrams, M.D., director of clinical programs at the University of California, San Francisco's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Native to Australia and traditionally used to treat topical infections, this essential oil has antimicrobial properties.

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