Antibacterial Soaps: More harm than good?
Antimicrobial (often simply called “antibacterial”) soaps and body washes made headlines last December when the US FDA issued a proposed rule that would require manufacturers to provide data showing that their products are safe for daily use and are superior to plain soaps in reducing infections and preventing illness. If they can’t, they will have to reformulate or relabel their products. The ingredients in question include triclosan (in liquid soaps) and triclocarban (in bar soaps), as well as benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride (both of which are also found in non-alcohol hand sanitizers, though this proposal does not address “leave-on” hand sanitizers per se or the use of any of these products in hospitals). Besides the fact that there is no evidence that antibacterial products provide clear benefit outside health-care settings, there is concern that their ingredients are contributing to the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. In addition, the US FDA is looking into data from animal studies that show that triclosan acts as a hormone disrupter, causing changes in estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones, which could affect puberty, fertility, and brain function. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is also investigating triclosan (since it is used as a pesticide as well) and will work with the US FDA to get a better idea of typical exposure levels and health effects in people, since exposure may be higher than previously thought. In one study, triclosan was detected in the urine of nearly 75 per cent of 2,500 people tested. Soaps or body washes labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” aren’t recommended ordinary household use. Check the ingredients in “deodorant” or “antiseptic” soaps as well for triclosan.