If you're worried about keeping your family healthy, antibacterial soaps may seem like a simple way to stop the spread of germs. However, evidence is growing that the ingredients in these soaps aren't as harmless as they seem. In September 2016, the FDA banned 19 chemicals commonly used in antibacterial soaps.
What Is the Basis of the Ban?
Triclosan was at the center of the FDA's decision to require manufacturers of antibacterial soaps to reformulate their products. Concerns associated with triclosan include:
- Its effectiveness is questionable. Studies have found triclosan does not kill germs at the levels previously thought and has comparable effectiveness to washing hands with plain soap and water.
- Triclosan exposure can disrupt the body's hormone regulation. The FDA reports short-term animal studies have indicated exposure to high doses of triclosan is linked to a decrease in levels of certain thyroid hormones.
- Triclosan can inhibit muscle function. A study involving mice found triclosan exposure reduced heart muscle function as well as grip strength.
- Triclosan could increase your risk of skin cancer. A study is currently being done to determine if triclosan increases skin cancer risk in animals.
- Triclosan may contribute to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to public health, since the antibiotics we depend on to treat common but potentially deadly conditions have become less effective in recent years. Evidence surrounding triclosan’s role in this has been inconclusive, but the potential for a link still has many people concerned.
What Ingredients Are Banned?
The triclosan ban has received the most media attention, but the full list of newly banned ingredients includes:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanol iodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye
What Happens Next?
Companies have one year to remove the banned ingredients from their products or to pull their soaps from the market. A number of manufacturers have already started to replace triclosan with benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, or chloroxylenol (PCMX). The FDA is allowing a one-year extension to supply data on the safety of these ingredients.
It's important to keep in mind that the ban only applies to products sold to consumers. The controversial chemicals are still allowed in soaps sold for use in healthcare and food service settings. The FDA is currently completing a risk-benefit analysis for this use.
What Should Consumers Do Instead?
Regularly washing your hands with plain soap and water is sufficient to stop the spread of most germs. Eating a healthy diet that includes abundant fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein and whole grains is also smart, as this will boost your body’s natural immune system.
Keep in mind that triclosan and other chemicals recently banned by the FDA are found in more than just antibacterial hand soaps. Triclosan can also be found in antibacterial body washes, hand sanitizers, hand wipes, fluoride toothpastes, and some cosmetics. When you're shopping for these products, you can look on the ingredients list or in the "Drug Facts" box to see if triclosan is present.
Have There Been Lawsuits Over the Effectiveness of Antibacterial Soaps?
Triclosan, the most popular of the banned ingredients listed in the new FDA ruling, has already been at the center of several lawsuits. In 2015, plaintiffs reached a class action settlement with Colgate-Palmolive regarding the deceptive marketing practices associated with its Softsoap antibacterial soap products. The Dial Corp. has also faced similar issues regarding the marketing claims made in materials promoting its Dial antibacterial soap.
To date, there have been no lawsuits alleging injuries caused by the use of triclosan or other antibacterial chemicals. Pending cases all focus on the allegation that manufacturers have overstated the germ-killing benefits of their products.
To learn more about consumer protection efforts related to the use of triclosan in antibacterial soaps, contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault today.