I disapprove of anti-bacterial soaps but the selection of regular liquid soaps was getting smaller and smaller in stores. So I was encouraged by the decision of the FDA to ban them because not only were their benefits unproven but they may even do more harm than good.
Antibacterial soaps were banned from the US market on Friday in a final ruling by the Food and Drug Administration, which said that manufacturers had failed to prove the cleansers were safe or more effective than normal products.
Dr Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s center for evaluation and research, said that certain antimicrobial soaps may not actually serve any health benefits at all.
“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,” she said in a statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”
Manufacturers had failed to show either the safety of “long-term daily use” or that the products were “more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections”.
The new federal rule applies to any soap or antiseptic product that has one or more of 19 chemical compounds, including triclocarbon, which is often found in bar soaps, and triclosan, often in liquid soaps. It does not affect alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes, which the FDA is still investigating, or certain healthcare products meant specifically for clinical settings. The FDA has given manufacturers a year to change their products or pull them off shelves.
Recent studies have linked triclosan to a series of disruptions in human and animal health. A University of Chicago study released in July found that triclosan changed the microbiome inside human guts, and its researchers suggested that exposure could damage developing fetuses. A study from earlier this year found that overuse could also be contributing to antibiotic resistance, and a 2015 study found that antibacterial formulas were not more effective than soap and water.
Professor Patrick McNamara, who has published research on antimicrobial soaps, called the ruling “logical” because research shows “there is no added benefit to having these antimicrobial chemicals in soaps”.
He added that triclosan could play a part in driving antibiotic resistance, saying, “after these chemicals are used in our homes they go down the drain to wastewater treatment plants and eventually to the environment where they can select for antibiotic resistance genes”.
The FDA’s press statement can be read here.
Some people have this idea that they must avoid contact with bacteria at all costs because bacteria have got a bad reputation and become seen as universally evil and need to be stamped out. In reality many of them play an essential role in both the ecosystem and our bodies.