Living in NYC, it’s hard not be at least slightly germ-obsessed, if not entirely OCD about washing your hands. Now that winter’s over, the snow no longer washes away the crap, the heat heightens the smell of urine, we can’t wear gloves on the subway (well, I guess we COULD), and the general feeling of ick that makes you want to wash your hands 24/7 is in full force.
Washing your hands is great. However, there have been some recent studies indicating that using antibacterial soaps is not good for all parties involved. It destroys the natural balance of bacteria on your skin and causes bacteria to become resistant and mutate into more harmful strands.
Soap is good. An article I read recently suggests that if we taught people to make soap in African villages that have a lot of fatalities from bacterial diseases like dysentery, we would all but eliminate those deaths. One of my goals this summer is to make soap with a recipe like this one from Tree Hugger. There are also natural antibacterial soaps, such as those made from eucalyptus, that do not destroy the natural balance.
No soap in NYC can be very distressing. I take comfort in a study I read a few years ago when I’m in the park bathroom with no soap. The study suggested that equally important to scrubbing your hands with soap is keeping them underwater for a long enough period of time. Running water on your hands for a full minute was found to be almost as effective in washing away bacteria as soap. It may not be true, but I choose to believe it when I’m in dire settings.
According to Breen, surgeons are supposed to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday to yourself three times. So when you hear the birthday song while passing by the icky park bathroom, that’s me. Happy washing!