We are taught from a young age to wash our hands in order to stay healthy and avoid germs. But what if the very wash you were using to prevent getting sick was actually the contributing factor in long-term health issues? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently declared that there is no evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than regular soap and water.
In fact, many ingredients in antibacterial soap have raised health concerns. Last month, the FDA issued a final ruling that says OTC consumer antiseptic wash products (e.g., gel soaps, bar soaps, foams and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients—such as triclosan and triclocarban—can no longer be sold. This rule excludes hand sanitizers and wipes, as well as soaps used in hospitals and food services.
So what’s the reasoning behind the ban on these antibacterial active ingredients? Triclosan is found in many other items aside from antibacterial soap including toys, furniture and even clothing. Because of the large number of triclosan-containing items in existence, consumers’ long-term exposure to the ingredient is higher than once thought, which raised concerns for the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For one, laboratory studies have shown that triclosan may contribute to creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There is also some evidence that it can disrupt hormone cycles. The EPA and FDA are both reviewing the effects of triclosan and in the meantime, NPR reports that companies have a year to remove triclosan, triclocarban and 17 others in question from their products or take them off the market. Some of these others include cloflucarban, fluorosalan and hexachlorophene.
Many companies have already started eliminating these ingredients in their products following the FDA’s issue of a proposed rule in 2013 that stated companies had to provide information on their products’ safety and effectiveness, according to NPR. However, many of these companies have replaced triclosan with one of three other chemicals that the FDA is giving companies a year to provide more information about. So be on the lookout for benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) in the ingredients lists as well.
In the interim of the FDA’s research and companies’ removal of triclosan and other banned ingredients, you can protect yourself from chemicals by not only reading labels, but also trying your hand at DIY products that use ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. In addition, never underestimate the power of plain old soap and water to clean your hands and body!
Do you use antibacterial soap? Share why or why not in the comments below!