DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – They’re supposed to do a better job of killing germs, but is there a benefit to antibacterial soaps?
For years, there’s been questions about whether these soaps are safe and any more effective than plain old soap and water when it comes to preventing infection.
Now the FDA says the makers of antibacterial soaps will actually have to prove their products are better at stopping the spread of bacteria.
The government’s preliminary ruling lends new credence to longstanding warnings from researchers who say the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.
St. John Hospital infectious disease expert Dr.Natasha Bagdasarian says the ingredient triclosan, found in most antibacterial soaps, is what’s causing concern.
“There are some potential risks to using triclosan,” Bagdasarian told WWJ Health Reporter Sean Lee, “and the benefit of using these products has not been proven; and so that’s why the FDA is looking at this ingredient again.”
Bagdasarian says plain old soap and water for hand-washing is fine, and extra important during flu season.
When you’re on the go, look for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The FDA’s preliminary rule only applies to personal hygiene products, but it has implications for a $1 billion industry that includes thousands of antibacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste.
The proposed FDA rule would not affect hand sanitizers, wipes or anti-microbial products used in a health care setting.
“Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s drug center.
If companies cannot demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products, they would have to be reformulated, relabeled or possibly removed from the market. The agency will take comments on its proposal before finalizing it in coming months.
The agency’s proposal comes more than 40 years after the agency was first tasked with evaluating triclosan and similar ingredients. Ultimately, the government agreed to publish its findings only after a three-year legal battle with the environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council, which accused the FDA of delaying action on triclosan. The chemical is found in an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the U.S.
Most of the research surrounding triclosan’s safety involves animal studies, which cannot always be applied to humans. But some scientists worry the chemical can disrupt hormones in humans too, raising the risk of infertility, early puberty and other developmental problems. Other experts are concerned that routine use of antibacterial chemicals like triclosan is contributing to a surge in drug-resistant germs, or superbugs, that render antibiotics ineffective.
In March 2010, the European Union banned the chemical from all products that come into contact with food, such as containers and silverware.
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