Healthy Beginnings

Avoid getting sick this season — choose the right natural soap

The coworker to your left just sneezed and got up to rifle through the supply cabinets for tissues. Another colleague to your right just started coughing, and he is most definitely not using the Dracula technique.

Germs — they are everywhere.

So what’s the No. 1 thing you can do this cold and flu season to avoid getting sick? Other than keep your body healthy with a well-balanced diet and exercise, it’s quite simple: Wash. Your. Hands.

Handwashing with soap could protect one out of every three children who get sick with diarrhea and one out of five children who contract respiratory infections like colds or pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also reports that the estimated global rate of handwashing after using the toilet is only 19 percent, despite the fact that handwashing can prevent 30 percent of diarrhea-related illnesses and 20 percent of respiratory infections.

Further, says the CDC, reducing the number of infections through keeping hands free of germs, and thus our eyes, nose and mouth, which we frequently touch without realizing it, could prevent the over-prescribing of antibiotics — the number one contributor to antibiotic resistance around the globe.

It’s not necessarily about the frequency of handwashing, but the quality of the wash and knowing when to do it, says Dr. Melvin Nario, an integrative medicine practitioner at Bio Integrative Health Center International in Reno.

“When you touch someone else, that’s the biggest mode of transportation for bacteria, especially viruses,” said Nario. “There is really no specific recommendation for how often to wash your hands, it’s more about being aware of what your hands have touched and who else has touched those things.”

The CDC recommends lathering and scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds — try humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice through — while making sure to clean the palms, back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails.

When it comes to what soaps to use, there are certain ingredients to try and avoid. In September 2016, the Food and Drug Administration announced they would finally ban the use of triclosan, a chemical associated with hormone disruption, in antibacterial soaps.

However, upon review from the Food and Drug Administration, triclosan can still be used in certain products. The Environmental Working Group recommends consumers avoid products with any antibacterial treatments.

Ingredients like parabesna and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are common in household soaps and may be harmful to the body as well.

Parabens are preservatives used to extend a product’s shelf life. One study in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that exposure to parabens may leads to increased levels of estrogen and potentially increase the risk of cancer.

The Environmental Working Group reports that SLS can cause irritation to the skin and eyes, reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption, among other issues.

Nario also recommends avoiding soaps with artificial dyes and fragrances that your skin can absorb.

Luckily there are a number of natural, organic soaps on the market to choose from.

“My go-to soap is Dr. Bronner’s for personal use,” said Nario.

The bar soap is made with organic hemp oil, coconut oil, palm oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, pure plant extracts for scent, sea salt, citric acid and tocopherol (Vitamin E).

Be a conscious consumer and don’t take the marketing of soap at face value. “All natural,” “green,” and “clean” don’t necessarily mean the product is free of potentially harmful ingredients.

Claire Cudahy is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings. Email her at with feedback.