hand washingWhen you buy soaps and body washes, do you reach for products labeled “antibacterial” hoping they’ll keep your family safer? Do you think those products will lower your risk of getting sick, spreading germs or being infected?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.

Triclosan and Triclocarban Banned

After an extensive study the  FDA is banning products (including liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—will no longer be able to be marketed. 

Why? Because the manufacturers haven’t proven that those ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Also, manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products, ahead of the FDA’s final rule. 

The FDA’s rule doesn’t yet apply to three chemicals (benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol). Manufacturers are developing and planning to submit new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients.

With the exception of those three ingredients that are still under study, all products that use the other 19 active ingredients will need to change their formulas or they will no longer be available to consumers. Manufacturers will have one year to comply with the rule.

It does not apply to hand sanitizers or hand wipes.

The FDA’s final rule covers only consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes that are used with water.  It also does not apply to antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

What Makes Soap ‘Antibacterial’

Antibacterial soaps (sometimes called antimicrobial or antiseptic soaps) contain certain chemicals not found in plain soaps. Those ingredients are added to many consumer products with the intent of reducing or preventing bacterial infection.

Many liquid soaps labeled antibacterial contain triclosan, an ingredient of concern to many environmental, academic and regulatory groups. Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way some hormones work in the body and raises potential concerns for the effects of use in humans. We don’t yet know how triclosan affects humans and more research is needed.

Triclosan can be found in many places today. It has been added to many consumer products – including clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys – to prevent bacterial contamination. Because of that, people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.

In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics.

To learn about the difference between consumer hand sanitizers and consumer antibacterial soaps, visit our consumer information page.

Consumers, Keep Washing with Plain Soap and Water

So what should consumers do? Wash your hands with plain soap and water. That’s still one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs.

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