FDA bans antiseptic chemicals in soaps; no proof they work

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The federal government Friday banned more than a dozen chemicals long-used in antibacterial soaps, saying manufacturers failed to show they are safe and kill germs. (KABC)

The FDA announced Friday that it is banning the sale of certain soaps that contain antibacterial ingredients.

The move was made because of a failure to prove those ingredients were more effective than regular soap and water.

Many of the products the FDA is banning are household items. The more we hear about resistant infections, the more we reach for things like antibacterial soaps.

But now, the government said these products may actually do more harm than good.

After decades of looking at this issue, the FDA issued its final ruling: over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing active ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban can no longer be sold on store shelves.

"As a healthcare professional, I think this ban is actually a very wise ban," emergency room physician Dr. Anthony Cardillo said.

Cardillo added triclosan, found in some antibacterial liquid soaps, and triclocarban, used in bar soaps, open the cell walls of bacteria, killing them. But it takes several hours, so it's not effective in the short time it takes to wash your hands.

Experts also said these ingredients may raise the risk of antibacterial resistance.

"We feel there is a tight relationship between these bacteria that are gaining resistance and the widespread use of these compounds," Cardillo said.

These chemicals are two of the most common of the 19 different ingredients banned. Manufacturers could not demonstrate that they're safe for long-term daily use.

Some studies show they can disrupt key hormone activities in our bodies.

"Some of these chemicals were interfering with the thyroid function and also estrogen function and testosterone function," Cardillo said.

The ban does not include hand sanitizers, but the FDA is reviewing studies on those products, including those used in hospitals.

Some manufacturers have already started removing those ingredients from their products, but companies will have one year to comply with the new rule.

In the meantime, Dr. Cardillo said the best way to prevent illness and the spread of certain infections is good, old-fashioned soap and water.

"Regular handwashing with soap and warm water is as effective, if not more effective, than using these compounds that have chemicals in them," he said.
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