Short Review: Defense Soap sent me a sample of their shower gel, which is meant to prevent ringworm, staph, MRSA and various other unpleasant skin infections. The active ingredients are tea tree and eucalyptus oil: there are numerous links on the website to follow up if you want to investigate the scientific basis for their efficacy. Judging by other reviews, there are lots of happy customers, some of whom claim Defense Soap has actually cleared up their ringworm. I've never had any skin infections, so I don't know for certain if I can thank Defense Soap for my continued health over the last few months. Nevertheless, if you're looking for an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal soap, as far as I can tell, Defense Soap is a respected market leader.
Full Review: You certainly can't fault the customer service at Defense Soap. When Guy Sako announced he would send out his product to anyone who asked over on this thread, I took him up on the offer. A sample was sent out to me almost immediately: I received the shower gel version. The package also included some coupons and Natracil soap. I've now given the Defense Soap shower gel a thorough test, after several months of use, so it's time for a review.
The product itself is a light orange colour, with a fairly liquid consistency. It smells somewhat clinical, but not offensive. It doesn't go quite as far as the brand name shower gel I compared it with, but that little blob in the palm of my hand was good for light coverage over most of my body. I found that on a few occasions when I had mat burn, such as on my shoulders, the product stung slightly. Though to be fair, on that particular night they also stung when I lowered myself into the bath, either from the water or the bubble bath (yes, I love a good bubble bath. ;p)
I've now been using Defense Soap for the past three months. It is difficult to judge just how effective it is, but I can at least say that I haven't had any staph, ringworm, MRSA or anything of that nature over the period. Of course, I've never had any of those in the five years I've been training. For a proper test, you'd need to have a few people along with a control group roll at several gyms where there had been an outbreak (though that could be a somewhat dangerous test, so probably not advisable or ethical). For me, that currently means the main benefit of a product like this is peace of mind.
From the little pamphlet that was included, the whole range includes bar soap, essential oils, shower gels and wipes. The literature states that this is superior to anti-bacterial soaps because of its 'all-natural' ingredients. I have to admit that when I read 'all-natural', I tend to assume that is a euphemism for 'untested', which is unfair on my part. I have no issue with synthetic products, as I'm more than happy to trust in science and progress.
According to the website, Defense Soap is endorsed by USA Judo. It also has a section entitled 'Defense Clinical Studies', which states that somebody called Erhardt Bell from the PetLabs Diagnostic Laboratories conducted a trial in April 2006. I'm no scientist, but as far as I can tell, it states that Bell grew some bacteria in his lab, then transferred it to some plates. A few drops of water saturated with Defense Soap were added to the plates and marked. After nine days, there was lots of bacterial growth, except for those marked areas. Bell and PetLabs does pop up when you do a Google search, so that is presumably a legitimate study. Bell also appears in a few MMA related articles, like a piece on staph for Fight! magazine.
Elsewhere on the main website, the active ingredients are listed as tea tree and eucalyptus oil. Below that information there is a long list of references, which you can follow up here. There are even more sources to check out on the active ingredients page. Personally, I'm dubious of anything purporting medical properties which hasn't been through lots of clinical trials: it would seem that Defense Soap has been through at least one successful test, and if the sources listed on the site are reliable, the main ingredients have been carefully examined too.
Continuing my brief background check, I then typed in "defense soap" and "fraud", to see if any criticism came up. The first result was the review I already mentioned, where the guy says it cured his ringworm, so nothing critical there. Second result? This thread, which apart from an obvious troll was entirely positive, not only about the product, but the company too.
There also appear to be plenty of other reviews around, judging by the same search engine. This guy claims it cleared up his ringworm in 2008, whereas this guy does a pretty thorough job of comparing a number of different Defense products. No complaints over on Amazon, with two five star and a three star review: that includes another claim that it cleared up ringworm, along with a wrestler who says he uses it regularly. Finally, the mighty Meerkatsu did a comparison with Fight Soap a while ago, where his verdict was essentially that they're both ok, but he wasn't sure if they were sufficiently superior to a simple high street alternative to justify the higher price.
Update June 2011: PizDoff just shared a link with me to this interesting Bullshido thread reviewing both Fight Soap and Defense Soap, including contributions from the founders of both companies.
I think I'd have to agree with Seymour. However, I say that as somebody who has yet to suffer from any skin infections: as per the aforementioned reviews, there are at least a few people who found Defense Soap actively cleared up their ringworm. I was impressed at how confident Defense Soap appear to be in their products, given that they clearly send out plenty of free samples (my review is one of many).
They also sponsor lots of grappling related sports and events. Looking online, I can see they're involved in judo, wrestling and MMA, along with charities like Maya's Hope Project and the 'Grapple For the Cure' benefit held by St Jude's Children's Research Hospital. I particularly like the fact that they support female fighters as well. According to this interview (where he comes across well), Sako started his company after his youth wrestling team had a major ringworm outbreak: he states he has been involved with wrestling for thirty-four years.
If you want a respected, natural, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal soap from a company that not only supports grappling but appears to have a social conscience, Defense Soap looks like a good choice.
Update Sep 2013: Unfortunately, Defense Soap's most recent choice of advertising was ill-advised, as discussed here, but still nowhere near as bad as Fight Soap.