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On September 2nd, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a final ruling that will disallow the sale of many over-the-counter antibacterial soaps and washes within the United States. Specifically, the ruling applies to consumer antiseptic washes and other products containing one or more of 19 active ingredients. These active ingredients, including triclosan and tricarban, are currently found in many liquid and bar soaps.
The reasoning given by the FDA for this decision is simple: soap manufacturers were not able to conclusively prove to the FDA that antibacterial soaps are more effective at preventing illness and infection than regular soaps. Despite public perception about these products' effectiveness and their widespread use, an FDA spokesperson has stated that the benefits of these soaps may not outweigh the risks.
“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, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
This ruling is no surprise to many in the industry, since the FDA issued a proposed rule on this topic in 2013 after studies showed that antibacterial soap ingredients “could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.” The widespread use of these products by millions of Americans each day is said to have amplified these effects.
Meanwhile, the ruling will not affect alcohol-based hand sanitizers or antibacterial products used in health care settings. Also, judgement has been temporarily suspended for three active ingredients—benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX). It's possible that additional research on these products may prove them to be a safer alternative than the 19 banned ingredients. Otherwise, the FDA continues to recommend washing with plain soap and running water as “one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.”
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