The FDA Is Cracking Down On These Antibacterial Soaps & Body Washes

Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Your favorite hand soap may soon be reformulated or taken completely off the shelves. According to an announcement released on Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on some over-the-counter antibacterial hand soaps and body washes because manufacturers were unable to provide evidence that certain active ingredients were both safe and more effective at killing bacteria than regular soap and water.
“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,” Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) said in the announcement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical that has potentially harmful side effects, is one of the most commonly used ingredients affected by the rule. It has long been a concern among environmental health experts: For example, a study from 2014 suggested that the chemical can encourage the growth of breast cancer cells in mice, while another study from 2008 linked triclosan exposure to thyroid problems in young male rats. It's also been associated with liver damage in mice. However, it remains an active ingredient in certain products because it kills harmful bacteria and there's no proof yet that it's actually harmful to humans. The FDA also cites evidence that the widespread use of soaps containing antibacterial agents may also be contributing to bacterial resistance.

Triclosan is also an active ingredient in certain toothpastes, though the FDA's announcement doesn't mention toothpaste — only hand soaps and body washes. The rule also does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or "antibacterial products used in health care settings."'

According to the announcement, manufacturers failed to provide adequate evidence to suggest that the benefits of the 19 active ingredients, including triclosan, addressed in the ruling outweighed the risks. Companies will have a year to either take products off shelves or to remove the ingredients from the products. Since the FDA first suggested the ruling back in 2013, many manufacturers have already begun to phase the ingredients out.
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