Are Antibacterial Soaps Clean

Just in time for Global Handwashing Day set for October 15, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving antibacterial soaps a year to remove 19 common ingredients found in these products.  The FDA’s reasoning – they say there is no scientific evidence that they actually stop infections or the spread of germs and are not any better than plain soap and water. In fact, they may pose bigger health risks.

Two ingredients the FDA is most concerned about are triclosan and triclocarban which research suggests could spur drug resistant bacteria and even interfere with estrogen and testosterone levels. Research has shown these chemicals may possibly be endocrine disrupters messing with the hormones in the body and could possibly cause thyroid problems. 

The research was conducted on animals and not on humans but it did suggest that high doses can affect the way hormones work in the body.

The FDA is giving antibacterial soap companies a year to take the ingredients out of their products.  Triclosan is used in 93 percent of liquid products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” which includes at least 2,000 different products.

This is not the first time the ingredient triclosan has been under scrutiny.  Since 1978, the FDA, environmental groups and some members of Congress have been seeking limits on its use.  It wasn’t until the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued that the FDA finally agreed to address the problem of triclosan in products. 

Soap manufacturers will have one year to negotiate other, less commonly used ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol (PCMX) allowing for the development and submissions of new safety and effectiveness data on these ingredients.

The FDA’s ban does not extend to products other than soap or body wash, such as hand sanitizers or wipes so manufacturers can continue to use the banned ingredients in these products.

Colgate toothpaste does contain triclosan which has been rigorously tested and found to be safe.  The FDA did a review in 1997 and found it was effective in treating the gum disease gingivitis.

In the meantime, it would be advisable to go back to the old standby - plain soap and water for washing up.  It has stood the test of time remaining one of the most important products consumers can use to avoid the spread of germs and getting sick.

 Think of handwashing as your first line of defense in keeping you healthy and well involving only 5 simple yet effective steps – wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry.  Regular handwashing particularly before preparing or eating food, after touching an animal or shaking hands with others is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and preventing the spread of germs to others. 

It also never hurts to review proper handwashing techniques remembering to wash hands frequently particularly during this time of year going into cold and flu season.