(Karen Weintraub, Special for USA TODAY) — Antibacterial soaps will soon disappear from store shelves under orders from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said Friday that they provide no benefits over regular soap.
Products with 19 antibacterial ingredients — the most popular of which are triclosan and triclocarban — must be reformulated or removed from stores within a year, the FDA announced Friday.
Hand sanitizers and wipes designed to be used without water and containing more than 50% alcohol are not affected by the new rules, nor are cleansers in hospitals or nursing homes, Theresa Michele of the FDA’s Division of Non-prescription Drug Products said in a Friday morning news conference.
Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble have already announced plans to remove triclosan from their commercially available products. Triclosan and the other 18 ingredients are present in more than 2,100 products, or roughly 40% of the soaps on the market, Michele said.
Using cleaners with the 19 specified ingredients could increase bacterial resistance, making it harder to fight disease, and may affect hormones, Michele said. The FDA had given manufacturers time to come up with data showing their products were better than soap alone, but no significant new data were submitted, she said.
“Manufacturers did not demonstrate that they 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,” Michele said.
She emphasized that hand washing with plain soap and water is the most effective way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
The FDA will allow products with another three ingredients to remain on the market for the moment. Manufacturers have until February to present information on the safety of products containing benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol.
The FDA has discussed the safety of triclosan and similar ingredients since at least 2005. Triclosan is in so many products that federal officials are concerned with people’s long-term exposures. The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing these anti-bacterial ingredients.
The American Cleaning Institute issued a statement Friday saying that current antibacterial hand soaps are safe and more effective than plain soaps.
“Antibacterial soaps are critical to public health because of the importance hand hygiene plays in the prevention of infection,” according to the statement. "Washing the hands with an antiseptic soap can help reduce the risk of infection beyond that provided by washing with non-antibacterial soap and water.”
But environmentalists cheered the FDA’s decision Friday, saying it would benefit consumers.
“This is a terrific announcement and it’s a long time coming,” said Jane Houlihan, research director of Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an advocacy group focusing on a child’s environmental exposures during its first 1,000 days. “There’s no reason to put potentially harmful chemicals in products people use every single day on their hands, faces and bodies.”
Nneka Leiba, director of science for the Environmental Working Group, praised the agency ban as “a huge step,” but noted that there are “so many more ingredients that are similarly hazardous. I hope it would not take this many more years to clean up our stores or personal care product aisles.”
Although manufacturers have already started to move away from ingredients like triclosan under pressure from consumers, it’s still important to have the federal government declaring them unsafe and unnecessary, she said.
“We shouldn’t have to wait until the industry has moved away from it, albeit slowly,” she said. “Some people are using 12-15 of these products each day.”
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