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Should You Still Be Using Bar Soap?

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The humble bar of soap is on the decline. According to marketing intelligence agency Mintel, households that stock the blocky chunks of lye are down 5 percent from 2010. Roughly half of polled consumers—particularly those in younger demographics—think the bars might harbor greater amounts of bacteria than their liquid-dispensed counterparts.

Are they correct—or is bar soap getting a bad rap?

The answer might be a little bit of both. Bar soap does indeed tend to let bacteria idle on its surface, but that’s not necessarily going to be a problem. In 1988, the Dial corporation subsidized a study [PDF] in which they purposely drowned bar soap in illness-generating ick like E. coli at levels 70 times higher than what would be found with typical household use. After washing with the infected bars, a test group of 16 hand-washers had no detectable levels of the germs on their hands.

While the research needs an asterisk due to the sample size and its corporate sponsor, it’s also true that there’s never been any reported outbreak of infection as a result of bar cleansers. Washing the surface of your skin is always intended to reduce—not totally eliminate—the number of contaminants to give your immune system a better chance of resisting infection and disease. You'll never be able to totally absolve yourself—or the soap—from grime.

Both bars and liquids are required by the FDA to have antimicrobial ingredients to help minimize the cultivation of bacteria. (This is true even if the soap is not labeled "antibacterial.") And while liquid cleansers might appear to be sealed off against gunk, they’re not necessarily immune to problems during manufacturing: A number of liquid soaps have been recalled in recent years due to staph and Pseudomonas contaminations.

Liquid or solid, soap should be good for about a year before it loses the ability to keep bacteria from proliferating. But if you’re taking that long to go through a small supply, deliberating over the relative effectiveness of a bar should be the least of your concerns.

[h/t CNN]

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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