The Federal Drug Administration proposed a rule Monday which would require manufacturers of antibacterial cleaners to prove their products are not only safe, but more effective than plain soap and water.
Triclosan, a common ingredient found in 75 percent of liquid soaps and body washes may actually do more harm than good according to some studies, CNN reports Some scientists say triclosan interferes with hormone levels, may cause allergies and contributes to antibiotic resistance.
"Washing your hands with soap containing triclosan doesn't make them cleaner than using regular soap and water and can carry potential health risks," Mae Wu, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told CNN. "FDA is finally taking concerns about triclosan seriously," she said.
CNN reports that an estimated 2,000 products contain the chemical.
"There are laboratory data showing that bacteria exposed to these products do change their resistance patterns," Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the office of new drugs at the FDA, told USA Today.
"Due to consumers' extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk," the agency's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Janet Woodcock told The Washington Post.
The FDA wants to examine triclosan to understand exactly what health effects, good and bad, the chemical poses. "We want companies to actually test these products so that consumers that purchase them have a sense whether there really is any benefit at all over plain soap and water," Kweder said.
Over the years, some have regarded the antibacterial soaps to be no more than a gimmick that the public has been buying blindly. In 2004, Natural News wrote an article on the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, and how some appeared to be toxic.
"Simple hand washing with soap and water still remains one of the most effective ways to decrease the risk of spreading infections after preparing food, using the toilet, or after coughing or blowing your nose," David Hill, director of global public health at Quinnipiac University's medical school, told USA Today.
But if clean water and soap are not available, hand sanitizer with at least a 60 percent alcohol level is the next best way to remove germs and bacteria according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA proposes that if the antibacterial manufacturers cannot demonstrate their products to be more effective and less harmful then soap and water, their products will have to be reformulated, relabeled, or removed from the market.
Comments and public discussion about the FDA's proposal will be accepted for the next six months, and antibacterial manufacturers will have a year before they must submit their findings to the agency.