After Reviewing Safety Data, FDA Bans Many Antibacterial Soaps

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of many antibacterial soaps, prohibiting 19 different chemicals. Following a review of data, the agency said the industry failed to show that these products are superior to ordinary soap and water in terms of long-term safety and efficacy. The soap industry has one year to remove the banned chemicals from their products; the chemicals are currently present in about 40 percent of soaps, including both liquid hand soap and bar soap. Among the prohibited chemicals, the most commonly used are Triclosan and Triclocarban.

Triclosan is found most often in liquid soap while Triclocarban is mostly in bar soaps. According to the FDA, some manufacturers have already started removing banned ingredients from their products. The FDA has not banned consumer hand sanitizers or wipes, nor does the rule affect antibacterial products used in health care settings. “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,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) according to the FDA news release. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

In light of data suggesting that long-term use of certain chemicals in antibacterial soaps could pose health risks, the FDA proposed a rule in 2013. For instance, research showed that Triclosan and Triclocarban may be linked to bacterial resistance and hormonal effects. The agency required industry to submit data showing that these ingredients were safe and effective in order to continue marketing them. Soap manufacturers had to show that these products were superior to non-antibacterial soaps in preventing illness or reducing infection. The FDA said the industry failed to do so.

The FDA has deferred ruling for one year on three chemicals: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX). The agency is waiting on more data before making a decision.

The rule was praised by public health experts, who have been pushing the FDA to regulate the ingredients for years. “It has boggled my mind why we were clinging to these compounds, and now that they are gone I feel liberated,” said Rolf Halden, a scientist at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. “They had absolutely no benefit but we kept them buzzing around us everywhere. They are in breast milk, in urine, in blood, in babies just born, in dust, in water.”

Halden has been researching the issue for years. In 2004, he published findings suggesting that Triclocarban may pose health risks. According to the New York Times, he says it is an older chemical belonging to a family of organochlorines. Organochlorines also include DDT and hexachlorophene, chemicals that were ultimately removed from the market. While newer chemicals are less harmful to the environment, Triclocarban remains for long periods of time. One of his studies found traces of Triclocarban dating back to the 1960s in New York City.

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