FDA bans antibacterial soaps: “No scientific evidence” they’re safe or effective

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a final ruling effectively banning antibacterial soaps.

The ruling established that over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients cannot be marketed. This final rule applies to consumer antiseptic wash products containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including the two most common ingredients: triclosan and triclocarban. This doesn’t affect consumer hand “sanitizers” or wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.

Why this matters

Antibacterial soap doesn’t work – or in other words, there’s no solid evidence that it works. If you wash your hands with regular soap or antibacterial soap, it’s the same thing.

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

This initiative first kicked off in 2013, and since then, antibacterial hand and body wash manufacturers “did not provide the necessary data to establish safety and effectiveness” for the banned ingredients.

More harm than good

What we, as consumers should do in light of the recent announcement, is wash our hands with regular soap and water – not just because it’s just as effective as antibacterial soap, but because in the long run, it’s actually healthier.

No, you shouldn’t.

The antimicrobial triclosan was introduced to hospitals back in the 1960s, but by the mid-1980s, marketers took advantage of the situation and sold it to the general public over the counter, promising to protect people by killing all the bacteria. But the thing is, most common conditions (common colds, sores, flus) are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and antibacterial soap doesn’t do much to kill viruses.

“The evidence is strong that these products don’t reduce infectious illnesses,” says Allison Aiello, a professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Public Health in Chapel Hill who has studied triclosan for years. Bacterial concerns like salmonella and E. coli are commonly found on food, and hand-washing won’t make any difference there.

Furthermore, while in hospital soaps, the concentration of antibacterial is very high, in consumer products, that concentration is much low. Instead of killing all the bacteria, it creates a sort of training ground, where most of the bateria would be killed, but the surviving ones would be much stronger. Thus, a new generation of superbugs was bred.

What we should do

This decision shouldn’t affect people that much, at least not directly. Continue washing your hands, just use regular soap and water, it works just fine. The same thing goes for wet wipes and alcohol-based sanitizers – try avoiding ones with antibacterial substances. In the long run, we should expect a decline in the emergence of superbugs.



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