Anti-bacterial soaps make ridding your hands of germs easy, right? Just a few squirts and you’re germ-free … well, at least that is what the makers of these soaps tell us.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), anti-bacterial soaps make some pretty lofty claims but may not be all that they are marketed to be. The federal agency that monitors the safety of food and drugs in our country released a statement noting that they have seen no evidence that antibacterial soaps perform better at arresting the spread of germs than non-antibacterial soaps that make no germ-fighting power claims. This release comes out of an ongoing review into the safety and efficacy of the active ingredients in the soap.
Dangers of Triclosan
Studies have been revealing the dangers of antibacterial soap for years now. In 2005, research found that the antibacterial agent triclosan reacts with chlorinated water to produce chloroform, a known carcinogen.
As early as 1978, the FDA even published a draft stating that triclosan was “not generally recognized as safe and effective.”
Yet the ingredient is included in a wide range of consumer products, most commonly in soaps, but also in everything from toothpastes and cosmetics to kitchenware, apparel and even toys.
Just some of the other dangers of triclosan include:
- Muscle function impairment
- Contribution to heart disease and heart failure
- Alteration of levels of thyroid hormones and reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen
- Increased risk of infertility
- Early puberty
Despite the numerous studies and massive amount of evidence, in 2010 the FDA claimed that it “did not have sufficient safety evidence” to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan.
Earlier this year: After four decades since its first use, the FDA has decided they would make the determination as to whether or not antibacterial soaps, and specifically triclosan, are doing more harm than good. Government researchers stated that they plan to deliver a review this year of the chemical that has been used for cleaning kitchens and the human body.
A spokesperson for the FDA noted that it is now one of their highest priorities, but the fact that it has taken this long to review something so potentially harmful should make one take notice.
Now, They See It (or at least part of it)
In addition to the agency finding no super powers in antibacterial soaps they claim that they could even cause harm by increasing antibiotic resistance and disrupting hormones. Antibiotic-resistant diseases have greatly increased since the use of products with triclosan, posing an even a greater threat than some plagues.
Starting immediately, the FDA requires that antibacterial soap makers prove that their soaps have some clinical benefit that outweighs the risks of regular contact with antibiotics.
Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, noted
“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.”
This new requirement comes on the heels of agency plans to buckle down on the use of antibiotics in industrial meat farming and is directly related to the escalation of antibiotic resistance.
The FDA wants to be sure that if Americans are going to spray, pump, wipe and squirt millions of gallons of antibacterial soap on their hands and body each day, that the benefits better outweigh the risks.
Strangely, Hospitals are Exempt
One strange twist to this new regulation is the fact that hospitals are exempt. The FDA explains this exemption by noting that there is a higher risk of disease being spread in a hospital than in other settings.
Their point, odd as it may be, is that these antibacterial soaps, which they claim do not work and can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance, deserve a place not among the healthy but among the sick.
According to the CDC, over one million Americans pick up infections at hospitals, medical offices, outpatient surgery centers and nursing homes every year. Approximately 100,000 of these people die as a result of their infections.
Just Wash the Old Fashioned Way
Often times, in our rush to save time, we compromise our health, as in the case of choosing fast and processed food over whole and nutritious food. Handwashing it seems is no different.
There is really no good replacement for a thorough hand wash using soap and warm water, even it it does take a little more time than a quick rinse with an antibacterial soap. Be sure to wash both the back and front of your hands, as well as between your fingers, for at least 20 seconds and rinse well. Parents can encourage their children to wash for as long as it takes them to sing their ABC’s.