Even in our hygienic world we are fighting a constant battle against germs. More and more people are living longer and longer, and the quality as well as the quantity of our lives is better than ever. It would be natural enough to think that this is mainly the result of modern medicine – and it is true enough that medicine can and does work wonders. But the biggest contributor to our well being is plumbing.Since the ground breaking work of Louis Pasteur we have become aware of the presence of invisible disease generating organisms. That knowledge has enabled great strides in human welfare and we all enjoy the benefits.
My favourite story about germs comes from the outbreak of cholera in the Soho district of London in 1854. This was investigated by John Snow who traced the contamination back to a particular pump. The handle was removed and the incidence of cholera instantly fell. It is a great illustration of the power of careful study to solve serious problems.
We now know that contamination can be a health risk and are careful to avoid eating contaminated food or water. The power of simply washing is also remarkable. Soap goes a long way to keep us clean and free of germs. Hospitals take elaborate precautions, especially in operating theatres to ensure a really clean environment, including cleaning hands with antibacterial scrubs.
Is there a place for antibacterial skin products in everyday life? The skin is already pretty well defended. And most of us don’t come into contact with very dangerous microbes very often. In my opinion most people can get by most of the time just fine without having to resort to paying out for specific antibacterial products. The combination of the evolution of our immune system and public health schemes have left us pretty safe.
But there are times when it might be worth thinking about whether you might get save yourself some unnecessary illness. When there is a ‘bug going around’ like there always seems to be this time of year, if you come into contact with lots of people it might pay to wipe your hands from time to time with something to keep the bugs at bay. Spending a lot of time in hospitals might be another reason. If you handle raw meat a lot it might be a good idea too.
On top of the risk of picking up a cold, there is also a slight risk of getting a bit of impetigo. If you have never suffered from this I wouldn’t worry about it, but it does seem to affect a small number of adults. It is caused by a local infection of staph aureus. What seems to happen is you get a small infection on your face. Your body’s immune system springs into action but goes a bit too far. The excessive reaction has the perverse effect of making the skin more susceptible to further infection. The process takes a few days so it isn’t always easy to work out where you picked the infection up.
Are you prone to occasional unexplained red spots, particularly on the cheeks or the forehead? This might be the explanation. Particularly if you sometimes notice that they are in a straight line. The infection is probably being carried from your nails where it does no harm to your face when you scratch. If so, dabbing your finger nails with an antibacterial product might help.
When it comes to formulations, in strictly functional terms the best approach is a simple mixture of alcohol and water, about 70% alcohol seems to be the most effective mix. This is highly effective at killing germs. The problem is it is also highly effective at drying your skin out. And walking around with a highly intoxicating flammable liquid has some obvious risks.
Most antibacterial skin products are a compromise between killing efficacy and skin friendliness. My opinion is that you should select the product that has no noticeable harmful effect on your skin. Remember that your skin is already doing a pretty good job of keeping microbes under control. Your product should be helping it, not damaging it.
I think this is an area where natural products are well worth looking at. If I was trying to combat an outbreak of cholera I wouldn’t want to have to rely on essential oils and the like, but for day to day use their mildness is just the ticket. But above all the trick is to find one that suits your particular skin. And it is better all round if people use a wide variety of formulations. That way the skin microbes won’t get a chance to develop a resistance.
I don’t use these kinds of products very often myself so here are a few reviews I have found on some of my favourite blogs.
Kat of Kat’s Beauty Reviews has found a non-irritating wipe from the Simple range.
Cupcakes and Cocktails got good results with Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel.
(These bloggers seem to have thrown the towel in. – Apologies for that.)
Cosmetic Candy has picked up on an interesting product that uses a material called glyceryl caprylate. Glyceryl caprylate sounds very chemical but it is actually derived pretty directly from coconut oil. Its been touted as an antibacterial for a while but doesn’t work well enough to really replace standard antibacterials. But for a product that you use two or three times a day, its mildness could well be an advantage. It also contains alcohol. If it doesn’t dry out your skin it could be a very handy product.
If you want a really natural approach, Bubblegarm recommends honey. This sounds weird, but as she points out it does contain natural antibacterial substances. It works for her. It won’t necessarily work for you but might be worth giving a try.
These aren’t the kinds of things to use if you are gowning up for open heart surgery of course, but they might do the trick to get out from time to time.