Say Goodbye To Antibacterial Soaps

| by Nik Bonopartis
Washing Hands with Soap and Running WaterWashing Hands with Soap and Running Water

Antibacterial soaps are coming off the market.

Soap manufacturers have been unable to prove products with antibacterial ingredients are any more effective than regular soap -- or safe for daily use -- so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled on Sept. 2 that manufacturers will have a year to remove antibacterial ingredients from their products, according to NBC News.

The two most common ingredients in antibacterial soaps are triclosan and triclocarban. Triclosan is an ingredient in 93 percent of soap products labeled as antibacterial or antimicrobial, the FDA said, and can be found in more than 2,000 separate products on store shelves.

"Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told NBC. "In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term."

Antibacterials in consumer products have become a $1 billion industry, according to Smithsonian magazine. Researchers are concerned about triclosan after studies showed the chemical can impact thyroid hormones in adolescent animals. While that doesn't necessarily mean triclosan would have the same effect in humans, the FDA said there was enough evidence to merit more studies.

Additionally, the FDA and other health organizations are worried that widespread use of antibacterial products will contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The World Health Organization calls it a "threat to global health security," Smithsonian notes, and some studies have hinted that triclosan could be a contributor to the problem, particularly as it's used in an increasing number of products over the years.

People accustomed to carrying small bottles of Purell or other hand sanitizers don't have to worry -- those products aren't subject to the ruling, according to the American Cleaning Institute, which represents companies making products in the cleaning industry.

"It is important to note that this FDA rule does not affect consumer hand sanitizers, antiseptic products used in healthcare settings, and antiseptics used in food handler settings," the group wrote in a statement.

The ACI also disputed the FDA's statements about the efficacy of antibacterial soaps, saying they're safe for consumers to use, and "critical to public health because of the importance hand hygiene plays in the prevention of infection."

The FDA ruling doesn't mean the antibacterial soap market is gone for good. Soap companies have another year to prove the efficacy and safety of chemicals like benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol, which are less common ingredients found in some varieties of antibacterials.

Still, the FDA said consumers don't need any added ingredients.

"Washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others," the FDA said.

Sources: NBC News, American Cleaning Institute, Smithsonian / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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