When you're buying soaps and body washes, do you reach for the bar or bottle labeled "antibacterial"? Are you thinking that these products, in addition to keeping you clean, will reduce your risk of getting sick or passing on germs to others?
Not necessarily, according to experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Every day, consumers use antibacterial soaps and body washes at home, work, school and in other public settings. Especially because so many consumers use them, FDA believes that there should be clearly demonstrated benefits to balance any potential risks.
In fact, there currently is no evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water, says Colleen Rogers, Ph.D., a lead microbiologist at FDA.
Moreover, antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients, such as triclosan and triclocarban, which may carry unnecessary risks given that their benefits are unproven.
"New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits," Rogers says. There are indications that certain ingredients in these soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and may have unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern to FDA.
EWG’s Guide to Triclosan
Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical found in many consumer products.
Where is triclosan found?
It’s nearly ubiquitous in liquid hand soap and dishwashing detergent, but those aren’t the only products it’s in. Triclosan is also a common ingredient in toothpaste, facewash, deodorant, a host of personal care products, and even mattresses, toothbrushes and shoe insoles.
A U.S. FDA advisory committee has found that household use of antibacterial products provides no benefits over plain soap and water, and the American Medical Association recommends that triclosan not be used in the home, as it may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
What problems are associated with triclosan?
Triclosan is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt thyroid function. Wastewater treatment does not remove all of the chemical, which means it ends up in our lakes, rivers and water sources. That’s especially unfortunate since triclosan is very toxic to aquatic life.
HOW TO AVOID TRICLOSAN
Forgo antibacterial soap.
The American Medical Association says not to use it at home.
Watch for triclosan (and triclocarban) in personal care products.
Read ingredient labels or use Skin Deep to find products free of triclosan and triclocarban, its chemical cousin.
Avoid “antibacterial” products.
Triclosan is used in everyday products like toothbrushes, toys, and cutting boards that may be labeled “antibacterial,” or make claims such as “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer.”
Triclosan may be in these products:
- soap and dishwashing liquid
- personal care products
- shower curtains
- kitchenware and plastic food containers
- flooring and carpets
- cutting boards
- clothing and fabrics