FDA Washes the Dirt from Antibacterial Soaps

By Carl Engelking | September 2, 2016 4:08 pm
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(Credit: Alexander Raths/Shutterstock)

It’s official; store shelves will be scrubbed clean of antibacterial hand and body soaps that contain certain ingredients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued a final ruling that bans soaps that contain one, or a combination of, 19 specific ingredients — triclosan and triclocarbon are common — because there’s no scientific evidence that they prevent the spread of germs. In fact, these soaps might do more harm than good.

In 2013, the FDA required manufacturers of these products to prove antibacterial soaps were safe and more effective than traditional soap. They couldn’t do it. On the other hand, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy demonstrated that antibacterial soaps are no better at killing bacteria than old-fashioned soap.

But the case for antibacterial soaps falls apart even more. There’s growing concern that overuse of triclosan, the biocide in hand soap, leads to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, disrupts hormones in the body and may contribute to certain types of cancer. In 2014, for example, scientists found that long-term exposure to triclosan may cause mice to develop liver cancer.

“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,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a statement Friday. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

The FDA’s ban does not apply to antibacterial products used in hospitals, or consumer hand sanitizers and wipes. Many companies have already replaced triclosan with other chemicals, such as benzalkonium chloridebenzethonium chloride or chloroxylenol (PCMX). Soap manufacturers now have a year to provide more data on the safety and effectiveness of these chemicals.

Washing your hands, of course, is still of utmost importance. But to keep your germs to yourself, plain old soap and water will do the trick.

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    1) Th alkylated aromatic in benzethonium chloride cannot biodegrade.
    2) “onium” disinfectants strongly adsorb to surfaces, thus self-concentrating.
    3) High molecular weights of “acceptable” substitutes demand larger weight-% additions unless they are more active/molecule.

    Trichlosan, 289.54 g/mol
    Benzethonium chloride 448.09 g/mol
    Triclocarbon 315.58 g/mol

    4) Perhaps one could slop in some PEO-PPO polyblock polymers (e.g., Pluronics). The right ratios powerfully disintegrate cell and organelle membranes, and, NO HALOGENS!
    5) Povidone iodine. Smells bad, irritates skin, stains, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa grows in it, fueling the next regulatory cycle.
    6) Gemini onium disinfectants! Let’s get a new biohazard roaring.

    • GivesIt Thought

      What he said! Yeah!

  • OWilson

    In business they pay you to tell what to do.

    In government you pay THEM to tell you what to do.

    Great racket!

    • StanChaz

      The REAL”racket” involves businesses (like Koch Industries) and businssmen (like Donald Trump) who would love to do anything they please, without regulations, without rules, no matter what it does to our health, safety, environment or well being. Founding Fathers? Ha, try seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while living in a man-made de-regulated sewer, buddy. You simply want to replace the hand of government with -dare I say- the middle finger of unfettered corporations and their short-sighted owners.

      • John

        Oh, I suppose this is why Wall Street is filling Hillary’s pockets – they want to be regulated!
        Oh yeah.. Koch Koch Koch

        • D J Flesher

          Why did she accept cash from them… OH because cash is GREEN and the GREENER the company the better, right?

      • OWilson

        So many strawmen, so little substance!

        Corporation are accountable to their shareholders and the public at large.

        A corporation cannot exist without providing a service or a product that people choose.

        Unless the crony capital government money bundlers get involved then they can be “bailed out”.

        The 3 largest Solar Energy companies in the entire world, Solyndra, Abengoa, and Sun Edison, just went bankrupt, and took about $20,000,000,000.00 of U.S. taxpayer money with them.

        Hillary herself amassed a $3,000,000,000.00 “family” fund, in just a couple years of “public service” :)

        You must be watching CNN. :)

        • Devlin Tay

          So much fake news, so little substance.

    • GivesIt Thought

      Maybe so. They did not incorporate the concept of greed into American capitalism.

  • http://www.royalcert.com Alphan Namli

    Studies have examined the purported benefits of antibacterial soap without clear consensus about the results. Some studies have concluded that simply washing thoroughly with plain soap is sufficient to reduce bacteria and, further, is effective against viruses. Other studies have found that soaps containing antimicrobial active ingredients remove more bacteria than simply washing with plain soap and water.[3][4] A study by Dr. Elaine Larson of Columbia University’s School of Nursing found that the use of antibacterial products had no noticeable effects over a 48-week period.[5] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published reports that question the use of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers saying that it found no medical studies that showed a link between a specific consumer antibacterial product and a decline in infection rates.[6]

    Stuart Levy, a microbiologist at Tufts University, cited these studies to compare antibacterial action with antibiotic resistance: “Dousing everything we touch with antibacterial soaps and taking antibiotic medications at the first sign of a cold can upset the natural balance of microorganisms in and around us, leaving behind only the ‘superbugs’.” It has since been shown that the laboratory method used by Levy was not effective in predicting bacterial resistance for biocides like triclosan.[7] At least seven peer-reviewed and published studies have been conducted demonstrating that triclosan is not significantly associated with bacterial resistance over the short term, including one study coauthored by Levy.[8]

    • RealM

      Yeah, this was really unnecessary. It didn’t even really add anything that the article didn’t already discuss. Why not leave your journal article… in the journal.

  • OWilson

    One day, they’ll announce a ban on carbon dioxide (Co2) in carbonated drinks.

    No, make that a huge TAX!

    There’s no money to be had from a simple ban!

    • wangweilin

      I’ll one up you. Ban nitrogen! (or tax it)

      • OWilson

        They already tax the air we breathe!

        (Out)

  • Small_Businessman

    The key here is – the FDA gave manufacturers a chance to prove their claims. And manufacturers couldn’t do it.
    If there were a real advantage to antibacterial soaps, it should be easy to prove.

  • http://www.skincare-fanatic.com tjrich

    Now if the would just BAN Aspartame. That is something that would really help folks.

  • bekindandfair

    It’s about time that the FDA stood up to be counted and did their job!

  • Bharati_shahida

    By now, we should know that soap and water or perhaps vinegar/ ammonia are best for cleaning anything. Cannot understand those who pour disinfectants, germ killers, etc. in and around toilets when simple, non perfumed, non colored soap would do. Other peeves: SCENTED fabric softeners, artificially colored detergents/ exfoliants/ scrubbers with ‘miracle’ plastic beads. Every civilization possibly knew when it was dying. Intelligence means acting on what we already know and possibly preventing this. All of us could work unitedly, stop trying to conquer anyone or take their resources or beliefs and rebuild our eco system. We can.

  • Elaine Dolan

    Big Pharma should be held to even more rigid standards.

  • Captain Obvious

    Finally. We’ve known all this for years and yet it has been almost impossible to buy soap that didn’t have antibacterial chemicals in them. What took so long?

  • Richard Sherman

    Some years ago, the FDA allowed Colgate to add triclosan to Total toothpaste – is that affected by this new FDA ruling?

  • RickinSB

    Good for them, finally. It’s been known a long time that most bacterial removal is from the physical action of scrubbing with warm water and soap. The “antibacterials” are only useful when you really need to sanitize.

  • GivesIt Thought

    The FDA is run by the same corporations it tries to regulate. (Same for the EPA and SEC.) The FDA is killing us all with their conflict of interests.

    • D J Flesher

      Please, they aren’t really trying to kill us… they just want our money.

    • blackfeather

      It’s more like they don’t have the resources needed for regulation. I contracted for the SEC a decade ago, and they were woefully underfunded then, and in need of software to help them triage their regulation of the financial industry.

  • sfcpete

    We should all stick to plain ole soap and water instead of helping in the production of super germs..

  • Overburdened_Planet

    But the FDA allowed Colgate to keep triclosan in toothpaste which users would absorb more of while brushing than when washing their hands.

    But then, triclosan ends up in treated waste sludge which gets added to fertilizers, and we end up consuming triclosan in that way too.

    How much though as compared to regular brushing I wouldn’t know.

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