WIKIMEDIA, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPSHand washes and other cleansers labeled “antibacterial” invoke a sense of cleanliness and healthiness. But don't jump to any conclusions, says the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After a review of the available safety information, the agency is floating a rule to require manufacturers of consumer antimicrobial products to demonstrate that they are indeed safe.
“New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits,” Colleen Rogers, a lead microbiologist at FDA, said in a statement. There isn't any evidence that antibacterial soaps are any better at preventing disease than regular soap, and, according to the FDA, “there are indications that certain ingredients in these soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and may have unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern to FDA.”
Of particular concern is a chemical called triclosan that is added to consumer products to ward off bacteria. The FDA’s proposed rule would require manufacturers of consumer products labeled as antibacterial to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their soaps. The rule would apply only to products used with water—not hand sanitizers or hand wipes that don't require washing.
Public health experts seem pleased with the FDA's move. “These antimicrobials have taken on a life all of their own,” Rolf Halden, the director of the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University, told The New York Times. “Their use has really proliferated.”
The American Cleaning Institute and Personal Care Products Council issued a statement saying that they “are perplexed that the Agency would suggest there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are beneficial as industry has long provided data and information about the safety and efficacy of these products.” However, the groups applaud the FDA's move, and they intend to reaffirm the safety of these products. The FDA is gathering feedback on the proposed rule for 180 days.