Antibacterial Soaps Probably Don't Work And Could Damage Your Health, Says FDA

The news: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just declared war on antibacterial soaps. In a preliminary ruling by the FDA, the federal government expressed doubt about the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps, and worry over whether or not excessive use constitutes a potential health risk.

Scary news for all my germaphobes out there: the FDA found that antibacterial soaps — you know, the ones pledging to kill 99.9% of germs — are pretty much useless.

"There is currently no evidence that [antibacterial soaps] are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water," the FDA's news release said. "Further, some data suggest that long-term exposure … could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects."

In an attempt to curb the rampant use of these antibacterial soaps that may or may not actually work, the FDA is instituting new regulations on what can be labeled "antibacterial." Manufacturers must prove that the chemicals used to kill germs are safe for consistent use, and that their product is more effective in preventing the spread of germs than normal soap and water. If they can't, manufactures need to be "reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market."

Why this matters: The main chemical used in antibacterial soaps is triclosan, which could potentially affect hormones to the extent that it messes with behavior, learning ability, and fertility. That's some serious stuff.

No wonder the European Union banned the use of triclosan in any product that comes into contact with food.  

"We believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk," Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said.

This ruling, however, won't pull all antibacterial soaps from the shelves quite yet. The FDA's decision still needs to be finalized, and even then manufacturers have a chance to prove the effectiveness of their products.

But perhaps the FDA's warnings will bring consumers to skip the antibacterial soaps next time they're shopping. And then we can all get to the real debates, like which soap smells the best.  

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Benjamin Cosman

Ben graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Political Science. He recently traveled through New England looking for pie. His second-favorite pastime is googling pictures of politicians laughing.

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