Fresh and Fit: What you need to know about the new FDA ban on antibacterial soaps

Authored By jaymckenzie86

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a final rule banning the sale of certain over-the-counter antibacterial soaps.

Active ingredients triclosan and triclocarban, as well as 17 other commonly used ingredients, can no longer be put on the market. If you’re worried this was some sort of kneejerk reaction based on fear and not legitimate concerns, you shouldn’t be. Three years ago, the FDA told the companies that make and sell these products to prove their safety and effectiveness, but the FDA was unconvinced. Personally, that seems like a good thing for all of us, and here’s why.

Their products did more harm than good.
Until recently, more than 75 percent of liquid soaps available at the store contained some type of antibacterial ingredient. While triclosan and triclocarban are the most common, some products also contain alcohol and chloride. These ingredients and soaps are effective in health care settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities. Because the patients have a weakened immune system, preventing contact with bacteria could save their lives. However, for an otherwise-healthy person, there’s simply no benefit to using antibacterial soap over regular soap. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular soap and water are equally effective at killing disease-causing germs, and they won’t kill healthy bacteria on the skin’s surface. It’s also less expensive. Who wants to keep paying more for no reason?

Damage is done to our immune systems.
These ingredients are also partly to blame for the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a growing health concern so big that the world’s health researchers recently got together to discuss it at the U.N. General Assembly. Their goal is to slow down the spread of so-called “superbugs.” Every year, more than 2 million Americans get sick with antibiotic-resistant infections, and tens of thousands die as a result.

These infections are becoming harder and harder to treat because our collective immunity to decades-old treatment methods continues to grow. Antibacterial soaps and body washes aren’t doing us any favors. Over the years, they’ve actually made it much harder to naturally fight infection. Sure, part of the problem is the frequency at which antibiotics are used in our food and what we drink, but switching back to regular soap is a good start you and I can make today.

Here are other health risks we’re facing from overuse of antibacterial agents.
The majority of the testing done so far relating to antibacterial soaps has been done on animals, so the exact effect on the human body remains somewhat unclear. But we do know an ingredient like triclosan doesn’t simply go away as soon as you’re done at the sink or in the shower. In fact, one study found the chemical to be present in 75 percent of people. It seeps through our skin, and once it enters our bodies, it takes time to be flushed out.

So far, there has been some evidence that these ingredients can disrupt hormone cycles and cause muscle weakness. There may also be a link to the disruption of the thyroid (leading to increased risk of infertility, artificially advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer), and they could be harming children’s natural development. It could even be slowing down our metabolisms.

Peanut allergies, hay fever and even gluten allergies or intolerance could be caused or at least worsened by the introduction of these chemicals. They’re destroying the good bacteria our bodies rely on to stay healthy, and no one knows exactly how much damage is being done.

They are bad for the environment.
These ingredients aren’t naturally occurring in nature. Humans have created them, and since they’ve been found in our blood, breast milk, urine and dust, it’s no surprise they end up in streams and other bodies of water. There, they disrupt algae’s photosynthesis and are absorbed by creatures in the water, as well as plants and soil on land. Basically, they could be entering our bloodstreams and end up in every living organism on the planet before too long (if this hasn’t already happened), and we shouldn’t be allowing this to happen. The risks and potential side effects are too severe to ignore.

What should you do?
Stick to an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you’re not somewhere you can wash your hands. When you are able to wash, the Mayo Clinic provides some tips.

Wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food
  • Eating
  • Treating wounds
  • Giving medicine
  • Caring for a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet
  • Changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal, animal toys, leashes or waste
  • Blowing your nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing into your hands
  • Treating wounds
  • Caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated
  • Shaking hands 

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.