Home Children All This Hype Around Medicated Soaps: What Are The Truths?

All This Hype Around Medicated Soaps: What Are The Truths?


Now, if you are like me, who always tunes in to local television stations between 6pm – 11pm, you find yourself bombarded with all sorts of advertisements with different brands competing for our attention. Among these ads are those about medicated anti-bacterial soaps and related products (detergents etc), with aggressive marketing and media campaigns battling it out to be the market leaders. Every other day, the ads get better and better, with beautiful mothers and their adorable children ‘selling’ these soaps to us. And that’s not all. When you go to the supermarket, you will find branded shelves, floors, posters and all, with some nice young ladies marketing the soaps to us (why are they always in tight clothes by the way?). The internet too is rife with their marketing campaigns. Did I also mention that they take these campaigns to schools too?

I want to believe that these products sell. Some of us buy these soaps because the ads have celebs in them. Some of us buy them because the ads look good. Some of us buy them because the graphics of germs in the ads scare us to death. Some of us buy them because we want to practice good hygiene. ‘Works in seconds’ or ‘kills 99.9% of germs’ is all we hear and this makes us happy. Some of us buy these soaps because we don’t want our children getting sick. Some of us buy them because we simply want to be perceived as cool.;) Some of us buy them because they smell nice (you can even get tempted to taste the fruity ones), they come in nice nice colors, and because they have very attractive packaging. We all have our different reasons you know! I know of people who will not take a bath if that soap is not ‘medicated soap’. Yep! The media campaigns are that effective.

Buuuuut, are these soaps really worth all the hype? Do they offer that extra protection that ordinary soaps do not?

Well, I came across an argument by a doctor, Dr. Torooti Mwirigi of ask a doc.co.ke, who questions the hype about these medicated soaps. Are they worth all the campaigns, he asks? Can a normal regular soap do the same job that the medicated soaps do? I will let you follow his argument, which even includes an experiment on the same!  It’s always good to hear from a doctor on some matters. Read on, and you be the judge.

*Lately there has been increased hype about medicated soaps and their ability to kill germs ’100%’. The companies making these soaps have gone to the lengths of using celebrities like Yvonne Chaka Chaka to spread the message that these soaps kill germs ’100%’. The story of medicated soaps is not new. I remember protex started selling them in the early 90′s.

In my marketing class a few months ago we learnt that this idea may have started from India where poor hygiene led to a high rate of diarrhoeal diseases and other infectious diseases like respiratory infections. Diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses are the leading causes of sickness and death in children in low income countries. So this idea of a soap that can kill germs was mooted and a new line of soaps began to be seen. Not to mention a new line of revenue for these companies. All of a sudden soap became a public health tool. So being a germ killer has made cool as being herbal.

Unfortunately, I  do not buy into the marketing positioning of these soaps. Do they work? Probably, but so would a piece of bar soap. Let me explain. Back in medical school we did an experiment about germs. The experiment was to measure the amount of germs in our hands after cleaning them in various ways.

This is how it worked. We had 4 petri dishes. (A petri dish or cell culture dish is a shallow glass or plastic cylindrical lidded dish that biologists use to culture cells).

The petri dish is filled with a special gel. In the first dish we touched the gel with our hands without washing them.

In the second dish we touched the gel after washing our hands with water only.

In the third dish we touched the gel after washing our hands with soap and water.

In the last dish we touched the gel after scrubbing our hands thoroughly with soap ,water and a disinfectant. This was the  same way a surgeon would scrub his/her hands just before performing surgery.

All 4 dishes were incubated for about a week to let the germs to grow.When we returned a week later to review the dishes, the obvious finding was that the number of bacteria reduced from the first to the third dish. This was an expected result. What was very interesting and unexpected was that bacteria still grew in the petri dish where we had scrubbed our hands thoroughly.

The moral of the story? You cannot get rid of germs from our body. They are part and parcel of our existence. They even help us. These germs cannot affect us when we have an intact immune system. However, there are germs that can cause diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses. These germs are mainly due to poor hygiene. To clean these germs all you need is clean water and soap. What does the soap do? The soap literally reduces the germs stickiness on the skin and they are washed off. This happens through a process involving surface tension. It is for this reason even the World Health Organization advocates for proper hand washing and not necessarily using medicated soaps. Basic soaps will do just fine.

So next time you are bombarded with alluring marketing messages, ask the simple questions. We are under a whole barrage of marketing messages trying to sell an agenda. The agenda is the bottom line. Always.*

So those are Dr. Torooti’s arguments. Do you share in his views? Do you believe all the marketing hype, or do you think it’s all about sales and revenue for these brands?

By the way you can also read a related article by fellow mom blogger Afro Mum who asked: Is Dirt Really Good for Your Child? The Anti-Bacterial Generation.

Have a lovely Thursday.



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Maryanne W. Waweru is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.


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