FDA Bans Antibacterial Soaps Because No One Can Prove They're Not Pointless

by Maria Guido

There’s no proof that antibacterial soaps are more effective than plain soap and water

Antibacterial everything. All parents have their bathrooms stocked with antibacterial soaps to disinfect their kids’ grubby little hands when they get home from school or daycare. Guilty. I’ve often skipped the prettier, better-smelling hand soaps in favor of the boring, green antibacterial variety, because #superparent. Okay, it’s maybe more like #paranoidparent.

But now, the FDA says there is no proof that antibacterial agents in soap are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, and they may even be harmful in the long run.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a final rule establishing that over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients can no longer be marketed,” the press release on the FDA’s website states. “Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products.”

This rule not apply to antibacterial hand sanitizers or wipes, just soap.

“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 Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

The problem? Data suggests long term exposure to certain active ingredients in the soaps could pose health risks, “such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.” The ingredients in question are triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps).

The fact is, as reiterated by the FDA today, “washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.” If soap and water is not available, the FDA recommends you use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

“Manufacturers will have one year to comply with the rulemaking by removing products from the market or reformulating (removing antibacterial active ingredients) these products.”