The FDA Takes Baby Steps to Eliminate Antibacterial Soap

washing handsOn the heels of its recent admission that antibacterial soaps don’t do the job any better than conventional soaps and water…and may actually carry health risks…the FDA has issued a deadline. Manufacturers must prove that antibacterial soaps are not only safe, but also more effective at eliminating germs and the risk of infection than non-antibacterial products. If they can’t prove that antibacterial soaps are health promoting, then expect to see your go-to antibacterial soap pulled from the shelves.

The Dangers of Triclosan

Antibacterial soap owes its health risks to a chemical called triclosan, which was originally used as a sterilizing agent in hospitals. It made its debut in commercial products in the 1990s and went on to spur a $1 billion industry. It’s the active ingredient in approximately 75% of liquid hand soaps and 30% of antibacterial bars…not to mention it’s lingering in your hand wipes, sanitzer gels, mattress pads…any number of home goods!

What’s the impetus? Triclosan is an effective weapon against bacteria, and we scooped it up eagerly in our obsession with ridding our environment of all things bacterial. Unfortunately, and as the FDA has noted, our use of triclosan comes with a high price and seemingly no benefit.

  • Four decades of research have yet to prove triclosan reduces the risk of infection.
  • Triclosan breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a health hazard the World Health Organization has deemed a “threat to global health security.”
  • Animal studies point to triclosan as a dangerous endocrine disruptor that could potentially promote infertility, early onset puberty, cancer, and obesity.
  • Children exposed to triclosan have a higher risk of developing allergies.
  • One study indicated that triclosan interferes with muscle contractions in human cells.

Hand soap can do all that? Indeed! A 2008 study proved that triclosan has the ability to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin and enter your bloodstream. Seventy five percent of subjects tested had triclosan in their urine!

Where Has the FDA Been All This Time?

In 1972, the FDA was charged with the task of determining the safety risks of triclosan and issuing a set of regulations as to the use of the chemical in home products. They didn’t get around to a final draft until this past December 2013. Forty-two years later and the FDA has finally declared that the benefits of antibacterial soaps are nil, and the consequences significant…but the organization is giving manufacturers a few more years to prove this verdict wrong.

When it comes to the FDA, a few years can turn into decades, so in the meantime take your health into your own hands and wash up with tried and true conventional soap and water. Remember, exposure to germs is not entirely bad. Reduced exposure to bacteria interferes with immune function and development. So go ahead…get dirty once and a while. There’s always soap and water to wash away the germs!