FDA Says Antibacterial Soaps May Be Bogus

Antibacterial soaps for consumer use will come off the market unless their makers prove that they actually live up to their claims. This would be the effect of a ruling published by FDA this week for a 180-day public comment period.

People use these products to kill bacteria that cause illness and prevent their spread. But according to FDA microbiologist Colleen Rogers:

In fact, there currently is no evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.

While offering no proven antibacterial benefits, these products do carry some risks. Their active ingredients have been implicated in contributing to the increasingly acute problem of antibiotic resistance. Triclosan and triclocarban are so widely used that Americans dump more than a million pounds of them into the environment every year. A recent CDC study detected triclosan in the urine of 75% of Americans aged six years and older. EPA has some issues with these compounds, too.

In addition to concerns about these compounds promoting antibiotic resistance, they have documented activity as endocrine disruptors. By affecting endocrine hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones), such compounds can influence weight regulation. And so, the buildup of endocrine disruptors in the environment is one of a long list of potential factors contributing to the increase of obesity over the last two decades.

The concerns about endocrine disruptors go well beyond a theoretical link to obesity. So the FDA action was widely praised. Dr. Leonardo Trasande of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City said:

Given our emerging understanding of chemicals as hormone disruptors, this is a remarkable and positive step toward protecting children. Given suggestive evidence associating triclosan exposure with allergies and concerns about promoting antibiotic resistance, there is little justification for widespread use of triclosan when soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers are available.

Both Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson evidently saw this coming. They recently announced they would be removing triclosan from all of their products by 2015.

Add this FDA action to their ban on antibiotics for fattening livestock and we have two big moves by FDA to protect the public in just two weeks. Bravo!

Click here to read more from WebMD and here to read more from the FDA.

Soap Bubbles, photograph © Umberto Salvagnin / flickr

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