FDA Orders Antibacterial Ingredients Removed from Consumer Soaps

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a rule ordering the removal of antibacterial ingredients from soaps and body washes, saying there is not enough scientific evidence that antibacterial soaps are better than plain soaps at preventing illness.

Health officials have raised questions about potential negative health effects of using antibacterial soaps over a long time. The FDA has issued a rule under which “consumer antiseptic wash products (including liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—will no longer be able to be marketed.” Companies now have a year to reformulate these products to remove the antibacterial ingredients, NBC News reports.

The FDA statement said companies “will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections,”

Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said that while consumers “may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs,” the FDA has no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.

Triclosan is used in 93 percent of liquid soap products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.” At least 2,000 different products carry the antibacterial designation, according to the FDA. In 2013 in response to concerns about triclosan, the FDA gave manufacturers a year to demonstrate that the antibacterial chemicals helped the soaps kill germs. Triclosan breaks open the cell walls of bacteria, killing them, NBC News explains. But it takes several hours to do this, so triclosan does little good in the time it takes to wash and dry hands.

Concerns about triclosan date back to 1978. Environmental groups and members of Congress have been calling for limits on its use. After the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued, the FDA agreed to do something about triclosan by 2016. The FDA’s new rule affects hand soaps and body washes. Triclosan can still be used in toothpaste because it has been shown to help kill germs that cause gum disease, NBC reports.

Though there is no definitive proof that triclosan is dangerous to humans, animal studies suggest that high doses can affect the way hormones work in the body.

The FDA’s rule does not apply to three chemicals (benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol), though manufacturers must now submit new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients.

The new rule does not apply to hand sanitizers. The FDA has requested additional scientific data from manufacturers showing the active ingredients in hand sanitizers are generally recognized as safe and effective to reduce bacteria on skin. Products used in hospitals do not fall under the new rule.

The FDA advises, “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.”

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