Feds say antibacterial soaps don't prevent spread of germs, may pose health risk

Health -

The Food and Drug Administration said there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps and washes actually prevent the spread of germs, and some products may even pose a health risk.

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Source: commons.wikimedia.org
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The FDA on Dec. 16 proposed rules for antibacterial soaps and body washes after studies indicated that some chemicals, such as triclosan, are ineffective and may even pose a health threat. The agency said triclosan can disrupt hormone levels and cause drug-resistant bacteria to grow.

"Due to consumers' extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk." Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA drug center director

The FDA proposed requiring companies to prove antibacterial products are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. If manufacturers cannot, the agency would require products to be reformulated, relabeled and possibly removed from the market.

The FDA said nearly all soaps labeled "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" contain at least one of the ingredients covered by the rules proposed Dec. 16. The measures are open to public comment for six months, along with a year for companies to provide new information.

Triclosan has been on the market for 40 years and is used in 75% of liquid soaps sold in the U.S. The FDA has faced pressure from lawmakers and advocates to study the chemical and similar antibacterial ingredients.

While the FDA has published several draft reviews of triclosan since the 1970s, it has never finalized its results. A recent lawsuit has forced the FDA to finalize its report.

The FDA cited a 2007 University of Michigan study that showed soap with triclosan is no more effective than regular soap. The proposals announced Dec. 16 could have wide reaching implications for the $1 billion dollar personal hygiene industry.

"To me it looks like the risks outweigh any benefit associated with these products right now… At this point, it's just looking like a superfluous chemical." Allison Aiello, professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health

Many chemicals in household cleaners were never approved by federal regulators because they entered the market years before regulations were implemented.

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