Photo by Corbis
It’s time to wash our hands of antibacterial soaps. In a final ruling on Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it’s banning the sale of some antiseptic cleansers after finding the products no more effective in preventing illness than plain soap and water. Neither have the companies that market these products proven that they’re safe for long-term use. Manufacturers have a year to phase out or reformulate liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes containing one or more of 19 active ingredients, including the commonly used triclosan and triclocarban. The ban does not affect hand sanitizers or wipes, nor antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.
Photo by Gerard Brown/Getty Images
IT’S A WASH
“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,” Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”
“Some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term,” said the FDA’s Janet Woodcock.
Indeed it’s been three years since the FDA first issued a proposed rule after certain clinical studies suggested that chronic exposure to certain ingredients could lead to bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.
Although the agency requested safety and efficacy data from the manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes, little information, it said, has been supplied in the time since.
The FDA said it has deferred a decision on three additional, though less commonly used compounds: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol.
The industry has one year to develop and submit new safety and effectiveness data on those ingredients and may continue to market consumer antibacterial washes containing those specific ingredients during this time.
Washing with old-fashioned suds remains one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick or to prevent the spread of germs to others, the FDA said. If soap and water are not available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer it contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
You might see triclosan- and triclocarbon-containing soaps disappearing from shelves sooner than you think. Since the FDA’s proposed rule-making in 2013, personal-care-product manufacturers already started phasing out the use of certain active ingredients their products.