Ingredients in antibacterial soaps typically include water, a fatty acid such as glycerine, an alkali such as lye or potassium hydroxide, and active antimicrobial ingredients such as triclosan, triclocarban, tetrasodium EDTA and chloroxylenol. Antibacterial soaps may also include various fragrances and perfumes, emollients and moisturizers such as shea butter and jojoba oil, and natural antibacterial agents such as tea tree oil.
There is ongoing controversy over the health risks and environmental impact of triclosan. Triclosan is the most common active ingredient found in antibacterial soaps, despite little evidence of its effectiveness. It is also found in shoes, cutting boards and cosmetics.
Triclosan has been found in breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood in as many of 75 percent of Americans over the age of 6 sampled. Animal studies show that it interferes with the production of testosterone, estrogen and thyroid hormones and impairs sperm production, metabolism and brain development. Tricloban exposure is also associated with weakened heart and skeletal muscles and to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. When released into the environment, triclosan is harmful to aquatic life and impairs the swimming ability of fish.
Studies also indicate that antibacterial soaps may actually be harmful. They are no more effective at killing germs that ordinary soap, they are ineffective against viruses, and they promote the resistance of some bacteria to antibiotics, according to Scientific American.