Antibacterial soaps may harm more than they help

hand washThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing that companies must offer scientific proof that their antibacterial soaps actually kill more germs than plain soaps.

Right now, there is no evidence to back up such claims, according to the FDA. In fact, some research indicates these products might be hazardous to those who use them.

“New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits,” said Colleen Rogers, PhD, an FDA microbiologist.

Antibacterial soaps and body washes contain chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban, both of which have come under scrutiny as possible health risks.

Triclosan, for example, has been shown to disrupt how hormones work in laboratory animals. Although test results on animals don’t always reflect how humans will respond, the findings are worrisome enough to warrant more research, according to the FDA.

The chemicals in antibacterial soaps also might be contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, wherein germs adapt to drugs that used to kill them.

The FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to evaluate the safety of triclosan and its various uses affect human health. However, the FDA’s current proposal would only require soap makers to prove their product’s effectiveness, not triclosan’s long-term effects.

The regulation would not apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes or antibacterial soaps used in hospitals or other health care settings.

The FDA is inviting the public, clinicians, environmental groups, industry representatives and others to comment on the proposed rule by visiting

Regardless of what the FDA decides about antibacterial soap, routine handwashing remains a powerful way to avoid illness and prevent the spread of germs. Check out this infographic to learn the five steps to clean hands.

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