Many consumers opt for antibacterial soap products
because they believe it will keep them healthier and protected against disease. However, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) announced Monday that some antibacterial products may not be that great at killing germs and may pose more
The agency said it is proposing a new rule to
further regulate antibacterial hand soaps and body washes. In the near future, manufacturers
of these products will be required to prove that their items are generally safe
for long-term use and are effective at preventing disease before being allowed on the market.
"Because of consumers' high exposure to these products, we at the FDA believe there should be clear benefits to
using antibacterial soups to balance out any risks," Andrea Fischer, a public affairs
specialist at the FDA, said during a press conference.
The ruling refers to antibacterial products that need to be
combined with water to work, and they usually contain the compounds triclosan
It does not encompass hand sanitizers or wipes that do not
require water, because those are usually alcohol based. It will also not
include antibiotic sanitizing products that are used in the medical or food preparation
industries. Those will be addressed at a different time.
The FDA grew concerned that antibacterial products were causing
more harm than good because of animal studies that showed that overuse of the
products -- especially those that contained tricoclan - caused hormonal problems,
including infertility and early puberty.
The agency had announced in May that it was reviewing
antibacterial soaps and body washes. Even at that time, the FDA's website
stated that "the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in
antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with
regular soap and water."
Fischer reiterated that sentiment today.
"We have not been provided with data to demonstrate these
products prevent people from getting sick better than washing with plain soap
and water," she said.
Dr. Brian Koll, an infectious disease expert at Beth Israel
Medical Center in New York, added to CBS News that triclosan contains small
amounts of known carcinogens. While using them once in a while probably
won't hurt, it's repeated use that is worrisome.
"When you look at products in the market where we buy our
soup, where we buy our laundry detergent, everything is antibacterial -- it's very
difficult to avoid product with antibacterial action... Every time we got reach
for a product and it has an antibacterial, that's what's concerning," he said.
Koll also pointed out that by using antibacterial products all
the time, we may be creating super bacteria that is immune to anything we have
on the market.
"The concern is development of drug resistance so that makes
our bacteria stronger," he
Companies will have to submit additional data showing their
products are better at preventing illness than soap and water, as well as
additional safety data. Products currently for sale will not be removed from shelves.
The FDA encouraged people that if they want to kill
dangerous germs, they probably are better off washing their hands with soap and
"While the FDA continues to collect additional information
on antibacterial hand soaps and body washes, we encourage consumers to make an
educated choice about what products they choose to use," Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy
director, Office of New Drugs at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and
Research, said in a press release. "Washing with plain soap and running water
is one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and
to prevent spreading germs to others."
To properly wash your hands, use clean cold or warm water and
apply soap to both hands before rubbing them together to create a lather. Scrub
the entire hand, including between the fingers and the back of the hands, for at least 20
seconds, or until you've hummed the "Happy Birthday" song twice. Rinse thoroughly
with water and dry completely.
"For the majority of us at home, old fashioned soap and
water that's used effectively are just as effective. There's no benefits to an
antibacterial product at home," Koll stated.