FDA admits antibacterial soap doesn't stop germs

washing hands
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The Food and Drug Administration says there's no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are better at preventing the spread of germs than regular soap and water. A consumer update published today announces that the regulatory agency will be reviewing the safety and benefits of the main ingredients in antibacterial soaps:

"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, says Colleen Rogers, Ph.D., a lead microbiologist at FDA."

The focus of the review is on Triclosan, a chemical found in many consumer products and linked to hormone interruptions in animal studies. However, the FDA states that "Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review."

Although animal studies do not always indicate harm to humans, our chemist emeritus John Laumer points out that Triclosan is structurally similar to thyroid hormones, which orchestrate growth and development.

The FDA currently requires Triclosan to be listed on product packaging, making it relatively easy for consumers to avoid purchasing soap, toothpaste and other cleansers containing this ingredient.

The problems associated with antibacterial soap probably aren't new to long-time TreeHugger readers. The agency has been criticized for being slow to act on this issue, the AP reports:

"The agency's proposal comes more than 40 years after the agency was first tasked with evaluating triclosan and similar ingredients. Ultimately, the government agreed to publish its findings only after a legal battle with an environmental group, which accused the FDA of delaying action."

The FDA has proposed new rules that would require manufactures to provide more data about the effectiveness of antibacterial ingredients. The proposal will be open to public comment before being put into effect.

FDA admits antibacterial soap doesn't stop germs
Triclosan, often added to hand soap and body wash, may even be harmful.