FDA bans chemicals in antibacterial soaps

washing hands

The FDA has banned antibacterial soaps from shelves. Instead, the agency advocates a more old-school approach to handwashing: soap and water. 


As of today, antibacterial soaps have a short shelf life. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned soap products containing 19 active ingredients, including the notorious chemical triclosan, marketed as antiseptics.

While the term “antibacterial” suggests to consumers that such soaps prevent the spread of germs, evidence suggests otherwise. After asking companies to submit data on the safety and efficacy of their products back in 2013, the FDA noted in its September 2 final ruling that manufacturers failed to prove that these products were safe to use every day or that they were more effective than plain old soap and water at cutting infectious microbes.

“In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term,” Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

Triclosan, in particular, has a pretty bad rap. Found in many household products, the chemical ends up everywhere from vegetables to our snot. It’s been associated with exposure to toxic compounds, risk of staph infections and mucking up sewage treatment. Over a decade of damning data had already prompted some companies to remove triclosan from their products. Others will have a year to remove it and other newly banned ingredients from their recipes.

The FDA ban does not include antibacterial hand sanitizers, which the agency is evaluating separately. In the meantime, the FDA recommends using hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol, or washing with old-school soap and water. 

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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