What is the Best Soap for Hand Washing?
Everyone agrees that handwashing is key in preventing the spread of germs that cause illness. Especially during a pandemic, it is essential to wash hands thoroughly. Everyone wants to avoid a coronavirus infection. But is one soap better than another when it comes to this task? Coronaviruses including COVID-19 are enclosed in a lipid layer. Basically, they are protected by a layer of fat. COVID-19 also has spike proteins that make it particularly infectious. Soap works by breaking down the fatty layer that protects the virus. Most soaps do this well. Unfortunately, there is a lack of information in the literature about which soap is best. Should we be using a true soap, a liquid soap, or a soap that isn’t really soap at all, like a synthetic detergent bar (an example of a synthetic detergent bar would be Dove beauty bars). A true soap is a combination of fats and an alkali or lye (none of which will be left over in a properly made bar of soap), this produces alkali salts of fatty acids. Most handmade soaps fit into the category of true soaps.
In my search for the best soap, I did locate one scholarly paper comparing a true soap made with oleic acid (the fatty acid that is most predominant in olive oil), to two detergent soaps that were made with sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. The true soap proved to be superior in reducing the infectivity of two strains of influenza virus compared to the synthetic detergents. True soap has a higher pH than detergents, but this was not mentioned as a factor in the effectiveness in reducing viral infectivity.
Ultimately, any soap is better than no soap when combined with lather, adequate time (at least 20 seconds), friction, rinsing, and drying of the hands. Do not worry about bar soap transferring germs, this has been looked at and shown not to be the case.
Frequent handwashing may result in irritated and dry hands, which we want to avoid. Keeping the skin barrier intact is important. For this reason, I prefer to use a handmade soap without fragrance or essential oils for hand washing. I turn to one of my favorites, the Butter Bar Soap for several reasons:
- It is a true soap.
- It has extra glycerin. Even though glycerin is a natural by-product of the soap making process, I put in more to give a boost of this lovely humectant. Humectants draw moisture to the skin.
- No added fragrance or essential oils to irritate already dry, inflamed skin.
- It has a triple butter blend that contains unsaponifables (substances that do not turn into soap and are available for your skin): Mango, Cocoa, & Shea.
This soap is a go-to for many of my nurse colleagues and teachers. In fact, some teachers I know take this to school with them to use as they feel it makes a difference in decreasing irritation from hand washing.
After washing your hands, apply a moisturizer in the form of a thick cream or an occlusive product such as our hand salve with lavender and calendula.
Thanks for taking the time to read and please stay healthy and safe. Wear a mask when you can’t socially distance and wash your hands!
- “Handwashing - Clean Hands Save Lives.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 July 2020, www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html.
- Kawahara, Takayoshi, et al. “Inactivation of Human and Avian Influenza Viruses by Potassium Oleate of Natural Soap Component through Exothermic Interaction.”Plos One, vol. 13, no. 9, 2018, pp. 1–9., doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204908.
- Heinze, John E., and Frank Yackovich. “Washing with Contaminated Bar Soap Is Unlikely to Transfer Bacteria.” Epidemiology and Infection, vol. 101, no. 1, 1988, pp. 135–142., doi:10.1017/s0950268800029290.