The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned that there’s no scientific basis for antibacterial soaps’ enhanced effectiveness over regular soaps. According to the agency, excessive use of antibacterial cleansing products may be detrimental to one’s health due to the harmful chemicals they contain.
The FDA banned 19 active ingredients commonly used in antibacterial body washes and soaps due to presumed toxicity. On Friday, the federal regulator said science has yet to prove that these chemicals are safe for human use in the long run.
Under the new rules, antibacterial product manufacturers can no longer include triclosan and triclocarban in soaps and washes. But they are still allowed to include them in antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers.
A spokesperson for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research recently explained that many consumers believe that antibacterial cleansers are better than plain soap and water. This is not the case, however, since no study brought convincing evidence on the effectiveness of these products.
FDA’s Janet Woodcock, MD, noted that there are “some” studies that have suggested these products may be harmful over the long-term.
Companies will have to comply with the new rules within 12 months or no longer manufacture the products.
The Industry’s Response
The American Cleaning Institute, a trade organization of cleaning product manufacturers, commented on the new standards. The ACI believes that the FDA may have exclusive data on the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps and washes.
The organization pledged to provide more science-based safety and effectiveness-related data on the topic. Its members will fund research on the safety of several key ingredients in antibacterial soaps. But the research may primarily focus on chloroxylenol, benzalkonium chloride, and benzethonium chloride.
The trade group added that until then, consumers should continue to use antibacterial cleaning products. The institute noted Americans have used these products for decades in their homes, schools, and offices.
The FDA has been reviewing the effectiveness and safety of commercial antibacterial products for three years now. In 2013, it asked companies to submit scientific data proving that antibacterial products are better than regular hand and body soaps.
According to the agency’s final rule, manufacturers have so far failed to deliver the required data. In the meantime, however, some of them removed certain chemicals from their products.
So far, independent studies have revealed no additional effectiveness of antibacterial hand soaps. For instance, a 2007 study suggests that triclosan-based soaps do not remove germs better than normal soap and water.
The 2007 paper also found that excessive use of these antibacterial soaps can prompt bacteria to build resistance to certain drugs. Co-author of that paper, Prof. Stuart Levy, wrote in an accompanying piece that users of these products “think they’re doing a good health measure when, in fact, they aren’t.”
Prof. Levy is a microbiology and molecular biology researcher at the Tufts University School of Medicine. For the 2007 study, researchers analyzed 27 research papers that had focused on both the benefits and risk of antibacterial soap use.
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