The FDA Is Banning Useless (and Harmful) Antibacterial Soaps

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The FDA is putting its foot down when it comes to harsh soap ingredients. In a ruling on September 2, the agency announced that companies can no longer sell hand soaps and body washes that are marketed as “antibacterial,” containing any of 19 different common ingredients that quash bacterial growth, Ars Technica reports. These include triclosan and triclocarbon, previously common antibacterial ingredients that companies have recently started to phase out anyway (but can still be found in some products).

Manufacturers were unable to prove that these ingredients were any more effective than regular soap and water. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term,” as Janet Woodcock, the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, explained in the agency’s announcement of the ruling. Studies have found that in addition to failing to prevent illness better than soap can, these ingredients increase antibiotic resistance—which currently poses a major threat to global health.

As scientists begin to understand the role of the body’s microbiome, too, it’s becoming clearer that not all bacteria are bad. Adding healthy bacteria into the gut can actually cure serious intestinal ailments, as the burgeoning field of fecal transplants has shown. The skin’s microbiome is also vital to health, and scientists are even studying whether the dominance of certain bacterial strains in the skin microbiome underlies problems like acne and wounds that won’t heal. Antibacterial soaps, meanwhile, decimate bacterial colonies indiscriminately, wiping out good bacteria with the bad.

Some antibacterial ingredients, like benzethonium chloride (as used in this Dial antibacterial soap, for instance), are still under review by the FDA and will still be allowed for the time being. The agency will rule on these next year, allowing the soap industry to submit more data on their effectiveness and safety. The 19 banned ingredients only apply to consumer washes and will still be allowed in toothpastes, hand sanitizers, and the healthcare settings where they were originally designed to be used. But really, unless you’re a surgeon, just stick to the regular soap. It’s for your health.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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