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US FDA Banned the Use of 19 Antibacterial Chemicals in Commercial Soaps


With mounting scientific concerns of antibacterial soap's role in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and possible health consequences of our bodies absorbing these chemicals, the FDA says that antibacterial soaps have not been proven to be safe and effective on reducing bacteria on the skin.


Antibacterial labels are popping up everywhere in the market place. Antibacterial claims can be found on many products: soap, cosmetics, cutting boards, tabletops, toys, and mattresses. Many of these products use triclosan and triclocarban as its active antibacterial ingredient.

We all want to be healthy. With exams and paper deadlines coming up, flu and cold symptoms couldn't come at a worse time. Students are especially at high risk of catching an infectious disease with their close living quarters and active social lives. Germs can make us sick, so it makes sense that we would want to use a bacteria killing soap to stay healthy.

Originally, antibacterial washes were developed for hospital use. Prior to an operation, surgeons would scrub with antibacterial soap to reduce the chances of infecting their patient. That eventually led to the scrubbing of patients with antibacterial washes. Studies did show that these scrubs helped reduce the number of post-surgical infections.

When manufacturers of soap products introduced antibacterial soaps to the general public, alarms started going off. Environmental and consumer protection organizations published research that questioned the safety of triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals.

Whether you use antibacterial soap or regular soap, your chances of getting sick are the same 

Many studies show that antibacterial soaps, either in liquid or bar form, are no more effective than plain soaps in keeping us healthy. One thought is that the active antibacterial agent is on the hands for such a short period of time it's not very effective in killing bacteria. Another factor is that respiratory illnesses, like colds and flus, are viruses not bacteria. Another possible shortcoming of commercial antibacterial soaps is that they can only contain 0.3% or less of triclosan (higher concentrations are allowed in a healthcare setting) which reduces their ability to kill bacteria.

In addition, the scientific community has raised numerous health concerns regarding the use of antibacterial soaps. Research on healthcare workers using triclosan soaps shows they have higher levels of triclosan in their urine. Research also show that triclosan passes through breast milk to nursing infants. Studies link triclosan to possible negative influences on hormone levels, thyroid function, and cancer.

Antibacterial chemicals are getting past waste treatment facilities and ending up in our waterways

There are also concerns about its effect on the environment. Despite the fact that, 97-98% of triclosan is removed during the water treatment process, the amounts that do end up in the waterways are still toxic to the bacteria in the water, effecting algae and wildlife. Triclosan has been detected in worms, fish, and dolphins.

Additional research is needed to evaluate the effect of antibacterial soap on the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria 

Years ago, with the relative small scale of use of antibacterials, the FDA deemed triclosan safe, but with the massive increase in use of triclosan, and other antibacterial products, the FDA was pressured into re-investigating. Though not conclusively proven, there are studies that indicate bacteria that are not killed when exposed to triclosan, develop a tolerance/resistance to the chemical.

With the lack of proven benefits to the addition of antibacterials to soaps, and the mounting the potential side effects, the FDA has given manufacturers until 2017 to remove the 19 banned antibacterials from their commercial soaps.

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.

To stay healthy, continue washing your hands, but regular soap and water is fine. Don't forget the "20 second rule" or hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice. There's also a lot of great videos on how to rub those hands properly.

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