Antibacterial Soaps: Not Worth the Risk

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently took a strong stance on antibacterial soap. Under a proposed rule released in December 2013, the agency will require manufacturers to prove that anti-bacterial soaps are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. Products that are not shown to be safe and effective by late 2016 would have to be reformulated, relabeled or removed from the market.

The FDA is taking a closer look at the safety of triclosan and other sanitizing ingredients found in soap. This ruling by the FDA lends support to outside research that claims that triclosan and other similar ingredients are not superior to ordinary soap and water in effectiveness, and may actually pose a threat to public health.

The rule does not apply to hand sanitizers, most of which use alcohol rather than anti-bacterial chemicals.

Concerns About Triclosan

The FDA and EPA are working together in examining issues related to triclosan in a joint-effort to ensure government-wide consistency in the regulation of the chemical.

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that has been used in hand soaps, toothpastes, deodorants, shaving creams, mouth washes, and cleaning supplies for years. Recently, it has also been infused into consumer products such as toys, dish soap, cosmetics, and clothing.

According to the FDA, triclosan is found in an estimated 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the U.S. More than 93 percent of anti-bacterial bar soaps also contain triclosan or triclocarban.

Potential Health and Environmental Risks

  1. Bacterial Resistance. One major concern is that heavy use of antibacterial agents such as triclosan can actually cause bacterial resistance. When used frequently enough, it will kill other bacteria, but can render that chemical useless against the strain of bacteria. Health officials say that further research is needed before claiming that triclosan is, indeed, fueling resistance to bacteria species such as MRSA, but several studies have hinted at the possibility.

  2. Disrupts Hormone Activity. Another health concern is that triclocarbon disrupts hormone activity, according to a UC Davis study. Such chemicals have been linked in animal studies to a variety of problems, including cancer, reproductive failure and developmental anomalies. The FDA calls the animal studies a concern and says that given the minimal benefits of long-term triclosan use, it is not worth the risk.

  3. Harmful to the Environment. “A major source of triclosan in waterways is sewage sludge,” explains Joe Bolick, an environmental consultant at the Iowa Waste Reduction Center. “Triclosan accumulates in sewage sludge from municipal wastewater treatments and this sludge is eventually spread onto the land. Triclosan seeps down through the soil and runs off to into surface water from the fields.” The bound triclosan enters the food cycle as it is processed by worms, plants, and soil microbes – ultimately ending up in the fatty tissues of animals that live in the ecosystem where it is used. In the presence of sunlight and moisture it is readily converted into Dioxins which are among the most toxic and carcinogenic environmental contaminants.

With more and more soap manufacturers pulling their antibacterial soap products out of the consumer market, you still have great options. For starters, properly washing your hands with conventional soap and water is proven to be just as effective.

When soap and water isn’t a convenient option, a squirt of hand sanitizer has been clinically proven to kill 99.99% of the most common germs that may cause illness.

photo credit: paulswansen via photopin cc

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