Quick Tips: Is it important that your face wash be antibacterial?

By: Abigail Libers

Take a stroll down any drugstore beauty aisle and you'll be faced with a slew of face wash options. With products boasting alluring claims like "oil-free" and "acne-fighting," knowing which formula is best for you can be tricky.

And while it might seem like a given that your face wash should be antibacterial (bacteria is the enemy, right?), products with this claim should be reserved for those dealing with acne, says Francesca Fusco, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai School in New York City. "Antibacterial face washes may contain detergents, triclosan and triclocarban, all which can be too harsh on normal, dry or sensitive skin," she explains.


In fact, triclosan and triclocarbon are both controversial chemicals. Commonly added to consumer products, such as liquid hand soap and toothpaste, both have been shown to disrupt hormones critical for normal development and function of the brain and reproductive system [Source: NRDC]. Studies have also suggested that triclosan and triclocarban may be encouraging the growth of drug-resistant bacteria or "superbugs" [Source: NRDC].

The bottom line? You should only turn to antibacterial face washes if you suffer from acne. If you're concerned about the health implications of antibacterial products, there are other options. Look for a face wash containing benzoyl peroxide, which unclogs pores and kills the bacteria that leads to blackheads, white heads and pimples, says Fusco. A face wash containing salicylic acid will also be helpful since this ingredient loosens the excess build up of cells on skin and in pores that lead to blackheads.

Another good way to control acne is using light therapy, says Leslie Baumann, a Miami-based dermatologist. "Exposing the skin to different types of light (particularly blue light) can actually kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the surface of skin," says Baumann. And while blue light therapy was once exclusively offered at dermatologists' offices, it can now be used at home. Baumann recommends using the Tria Blue Light ($245; triabeauty.com) for three minutes twice a day for a clear, healthy complexion.


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  • Natural Resources Defense Council. "Smarter Living: Chemical Index; Triclosan and Triclocarban." (December 28, 2011). http://www.nrdc.org/living/chemicalindex/triclosan.asp
  • Fusco, Francesca, M.D. Personal correspondence.
  • Baumann, Leslie, M.D. Personal correspondence.