Anti-bacterial soaps? FDA says don’t bother

You know those anti-bacterial soaps you may have been buying for years?  The Food and Drug Administration says they’re no better at preventing germs than plain old soap and water.

Manufacturers haven’t been able to prove 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, say government scientists.   So, the FDA has ruled that these over-the-counter anti-bacterial soaps, specifically those containing 19 ingredients, can no loner been sold.  Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products.

More harm than good

“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,” says Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Of particular concern is triclosan, an ingredient in many liquid anti-bacterial soaps. (In bar soaps that ingredient is triclocarban).  Triclosan is used in lots of products to fight bacteria, including clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys. Because of that, people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought.  The FDA says that’s raised concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.

In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics.

The products involved are those that are intended to be used with water. The FDA ban does not affect consumer hand “sanitizers” or wipes or antibacterial products used in health care settings.  Antibacterial products generally have the word “antibacterial” on the label. Also, a label on a soap or body wash is a sign a product contains antibacterial ingredients.

Manufacturers have one year to remove the banned products from the market or reformulate them by removing their antibacterial active ingredients.

When all is said and done, says the FDA, the best thing you can do to kill germs and stay healthy is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water.


About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at Rx411. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years. This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns. He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C.