Confused about the FDA's ruling on antibacterial soaps?
The FDA did NOT ban antibacterial soaps. It banned the use of 19 different chemicals commonly found in antibacterial soaps, and deferred its ruling for one year on three other ingredients. However, this ban only applies to consumer products-it does not apply to health care settings like doctor's offices and hospitals. It also doesn't apply to hand sanitizers or hand wipes
The FDA released its ruling regarding antibacterial soaps in September 2016. Here's what they 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".
Some scientists have concerns about these ingredients creating antibiotic resistance - soaps with these ingredients have been used for so long by so many that bacteria have become resistant to them. There's also concerns about their effect on the environment and human health. According to a lead author of the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, a declaration signed by more than 200 scientists and medical professionals from around the world, “Triclosan is a case study of the many things that can go wrong when formulating consumer products. To start out with, it’s a chemical that contains dioxin — a potent toxic carcinogen," he said. "When you use the chemical, it is mostly ineffective in protecting from germs and instead actually may increase microbial risks by producing bacteria that are cross-resistant to antibiotics your doctor prescribes to save lives. It increases susceptibility to allergies. When released into water or soil, it persists for long periods of time and forms additional dioxins. When it is burned, it produces the most toxic forms of dioxin known.”
Triclocarban, a structurally related antimicrobial chemical, while free of dioxins, also contains and can be transformed to other potent cancer-causing chemicals, namely chloroanilines.
Many manufacturers of products containing these 19 ingredients that the FDA banned assured consumers for years that there was no cause for alarm because these ingredients were safe. The FDA has been keeping an eye on triclosan since 1978, when it initially proposed a rule that would have disallowed triclosan in hand soaps because there wasn’t enough evidence to show it was safe and effective. In 1994, the FDA amended that to say some chemicals were safe for consumer soaps, but continued to propose that additional data were needed for other ingredients, including triclosan. 1978? That's a LONG time ago!
What about benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride? These are two other ingredients commonly found in antibacterial soaps, but they haven't been banned - yet. They're not out of the woods yet. The FDA has deferred rulemaking for one year on three other ingredients commonly found in consumer wash products – benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) – "to allow for the development and submission of new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients". According to the FDA, "consumer antibacterial washes containing these specific ingredients may be marketed during this time while data are being collected".
Can't people just discontinue using products with these ingredients in them? Not so easy to do! In addition to antibacterial soaps, triclosan appears in thousands of items of daily use in the United States and around the world, including pencils, clothing, toiletries, toys and yoga mats.
Stay tuned for new information as it becomes available! In the meantime, keep using plain ol' soap and water to wash your hands!