The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just issued a ban on the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and another seventeen chemicals used in hand and body wash soaps. These chemicals have been added to soap to make them “antibacterial,” and advertisers have been touting them as more effective than simple soap. Now, the FDA says antibacterial soaps are not necessary for health, and some of them may be dangerous.
The agency has given companies a year to remove the products from the market, or take them out of their products. Theresa Michele, director of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products, spoke to reporters during a conference call. She said, “If the product makes antibacterial claims, chances are pretty good that it contains one of these ingredients.”
The ban will cover only products marketed directly to consumers. It will not apply to antibacterial soaps used in food service and hospital environments.
In 2013, the FDA issued a proposed rule requiring companies to provide specific information on the safety and effectiveness of their products. As a result, some companies have already stopped producing “antibacterial” soaps or are in the process of phasing out the questionable ingredients.
The products are still being used in some products, however. For example, on its website, Dial’s “All Day Freshness” antibacterial soap lists triclocarban as an active ingredient. Dial is owned by the Henkels Company, which did not respond to an email requesting comment.
A number of companies have stopped using triclosan in favor of one of three other chemicals: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride or chloroxylenol (PCMX). The Food and Drug Administration has extended companies another year to provide data on the safety and effectiveness of those chemicals.
The original request to the FDA to ban the ingredients was made by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mae Wu, senior attorney, with the NRDC, says there is evidence that triclosan, triclocarban and other chemicals disrupt hormone cycles and cause weakness in muscles.
FDA hopes to convince consumers to avoid “antibacterial” soaps and instead use regular soap and water. Their press release asserts: There’s no data demonstrating that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.
Industry advocates disagree. Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, said in an email 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.”
The following are the newly banned chemicals:
Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16