The US Food and Drug Administration announced a proposed regulation on Monday to ban certain ingredients in anti-bacterial soaps if manufacturers cannot prove that these products are safe to use and more effective than plain soap and water for preventing the spread of infections. Such a move will likely force makers of personal hygiene products to reformulate all bar soaps, liquid soaps, body washes, and dishwashing liquids labeled as "anti-bacterial" and "antimicrobial" to keep them on store shelves.
Antibacterial soaps made by companies including Dial and Lever contain chemicals that have a spotty safety record. "Some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products -- for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps) -- could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects," according to a statement released by the FDA.
Almost all soaps labeled "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" contain at least one of the antibacterial ingredients that the FDA is proposing to ban. Household cleaning products and some toothpastes may also contain them.
Liquid hand sanitizers, such as Purell, and anti-bacterial wipes do not contain the worrisome ingredients. These "leave on" products contain alcohol to kill germs and aren't affected by the planned regulation, according to the FDA.
"Antibacterial soaps and body washes are used widely and frequently by consumers in everyday home, work, school, and public settings, where the risk of infection is relatively low," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Due to consumers' extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk."
Manufaturers will have about six months to respond to the planned regulation, which likely won't be implemented for at least a year. For now, the FDA recommends using plain soap and water to wash hands and to avoid using antibacterial soaps, which will remain on the market for now. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol should be used.