FDA Bans 19 Chemicals Used in Antibacterial Soap

By Erin Delmore

“I think it used to be, you had to look to find them. And then lately, you had to look to find without it,” said Dr. Don Schaffner, professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University.

Antibacterial soap, the go-to for people who want to be germ-free. But the FDA says “squeaky clean” is good enough. The agency banned 19 chemicals used in antibacterial soaps, saying they may cause more harm than good.

“Some data suggests long-term that exposure to some active ingredients used in some antibacterial products — for example triclosan in liquid soap and triclocarban in bar soap — could pose health risks. These include bacterial resistance or hormonal effects, primarily thyroid,” said Dr. Theresa Michele, director of the division of non-prescription drug products for the FDA.

The FDA decision takes effect next year. While household products will no longer contain triclosan and triclocarban — which the FDA says nearly all antibacterial soaps do — the hospital and food service industries will remain unchanged.

Schaffner studies cross-contamination in his lab at Rutgers University.

“The FDA spokespeople have repeatedly said that these antibacterial soaps offer no benefit. And we’ve done research that shows that clearly they do have a benefit,” he said.

The American Cleaning Institute responded to the FDA announcement in a statement, saying, “Washing the hands with an antiseptic soap can help reduce the risk of infection beyond that provided by washing with non-antibacterial soap and water. The FDA already has in its hands data that shows the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.”

From the FDA: “We were looking for clinical trial data that shows that soaps with these ingredients provide greater benefit than plain soap and water,” Michele said.

Beyond efficacy, some scientists say the chemicals found in antibacterial soap pose ecological and health risks. This study published by Oxford University Press, found “triclosan exposure significantly impacts thyroid hormone concentrations in the male juvenile rat.”

For years, scientists have warned that Americans’ quest to be 100 percent germ-free is bolstering bacteria-resistant infections.

“We could look to developing nations that have poor sanitation and have poor public health, and people growing up in those countries, they are more resistant to disease when they get older. Unfortunately, many of them don’t make it to old age because they die in infancy from infant diarrhea and things like that,” Schaffner said.

The new rule doesn’t affect consumer hand sanitizers or wipes, but both the FDA and the CDC say nothing beats good old-fashioned soap and water.