FDA Rinses Their Hands of Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps are seemingly everywhere. A 2001 study by Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious diseases researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, found that nearly 76 percent of liquid soaps and 29 percent of bar soaps -- 45 percent of all soaps in total -- contain antibacterial agents. These agents have even extended into new products beyond soap like athletic wear and pillow cases.

But according to the FDA, chemicals and agents with antibacterial properties may not be effective as we believe. Beginning in 2013, the FDA made it mandatory that companies that manufacturing these products must produce data showing their effectiveness to be more than hot water and normal soap.

Late last week, because these organizations were unable to prove a superior outcome from utilizing these products, the FDA banned 19 antibacterial ingredients, including triclosan and triclocarban, the most common agents. Manufacturers have one year to make the changes and research alternatives before the ban goes into effect.

This rule only affects products that are washed off with water and does not affect hand sanitizers or such chemicals that are used in a healthcare setting.

"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."

These adverse long-term consequences could lead to drug resistant bacteria or "superbugs" and could cause hormonal changes in humans.

The best way to avoid disease and prevent illnesses from spreading is to wash your hands with warm running water and regular soap. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content.