It makes sense that a lot of people might want the germ-killing boost of an antibacterial soap, but they don’t want the synthetic or harsh additives of commercial mainstream “soap.” So are there any organic antibacterial soaps out there?
Before we dig into this question, let’s first look at how antibacterial soap works. Antibacterial soap usually contains one or more ingredients designed to kill bacteria and fungi. The most common of these ingredients are triclosan and triclocarban, and some others are benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and/or chloroxylenol. Triclosan is used as a disinfectant at hospitals, where sterilization is really important. Needless to say, triclosan and its cousins are not organic compounds.
I suppose you could make a soap out of good old olive oil and shea butter and then throw in some chloroxylenol just for kicks. But that would seem sort of backwards, right?
The good news is that most organic soaps already contain natural antibacterial ingredients. What I’m talking about are essential oils. May of the same essential oils we put in soap to make it smell good also kill bacteria and other microorganisms. Let’s take a look at a few essential oils:
Lavender is a shrub-like flowering plant in the mint family. Lavender essential oil smells floral and calming, and is one of the safest essential oils. Unlike most essential oils, it can be applied undiluted, directly to the skin. Herbalist James Green of The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook carries a small bottle of lavender essential oil to use as a disinfectant when he is out in the field.
Cedar essential oil has almost too many benefits to list, helping with arthritis, acne, dry scalp, and yes, it is an antiseptic. Three major components of cedar essential oil are alpha-cedrene, beta-cedrene, and cedrol. While cedar essential oil has the ability to kill microscopic critters, it can also be used to repel insects.
Cinnamon essential oil may come from the cheaper cassia trees or the more expensive true cinnamon. The antiseptic compounds in cinnamon essential oil are cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid. Besides its disinfecting properties, cinnamon can also be used as an astringent, as an aphrodisiac, or as a pain reliever.
One question you might be asking at this point is whether organic soap contains enough essential oil to be an effective antibacterial treatment. The short answer is that it doesn’t matter. To date, according to the FDA, antibacterial soap hasn’t been shown to be any more effective than regular old soap. So go ahead and just buy the one that smells the best!