Anti-bacterial chemical in soap and toothpaste may be ineffective
SUMMARY: Triclosan, a chemical in many anti-bacterial products as well as toothpastes and mouthwashes, may be ineffective at preventing against illness.
Posted: December 17, 2013
When searching for soaps and body washes, many Americans scout out products labeled "anti-bacterial." Now, following 40 years of studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that anti-bacterial soaps may show no evidence of preventing against the spread of germs.
Not only do the soaps appear ineffective, but they also might pose certain threats to public health. Scientists at the FDA honed in on triclosan, an ingredient found in popular toothpaste formulas as well as some mouthwashes. Recent studies indicate that triclosan and other sanitizing substances could interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and provoke the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.
If you use hand sanitizers religiously, don't worry. The rule does not apply to them, as most use alcohol rather than anti-bacterial chemicals.
So far, there is no data that suggests over-the-counter anti-bacterial soap products are more effective at stopping illness than washing with plain soap and water. At work, home, school and workout facilities, consumers use anti-bacterial soaps and body washes. For those who use oral hygiene products that contain the chemical, it's best to lay off until final studies have been approved. To keep bad breath at bay without any potential harm, alcohol-free mouthwash is your best best.
Scientists have had their eyes on triclosan since 1978 when the FDA first proposed removing it from products. Yet, because the agency made no final decisions then, many soaps today include it as a leading ingredient. In fact, triclosan is found in nearly 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the U.S. Up to 93 percent of anti-bacterial bar soaps also contain triclosan, according to the FDA.
The majority of research delving into the safety of triclosan involves studies in rats, which have indicated changes in estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones. Some scientists have grown concerned that such effects in humans could increase the risk of early puberty, infertility and even cancer.
"This is a good first step toward getting unsafe triclosan off the market," Mae Wu, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Associated Press. "FDA is finally taking concerns about triclosan seriously. Washing your hands with soap containing triclosan doesn't make them cleaner than using regular soap and water and can carry potential health risks."
In 2010, the European Union banned the chemical from all products that end up touching food, such as silverware and containers.
Though the FDA's rule only pertains to personal hygiene products, it has broad implications for the $1 billion industry that encompasses thousands of anti-bacterial products, from toothpaste to toys to pacifiers. It is imperative that consumers read ingredient labels of all oral products before use. Instead of opting to fight bad breath with mouthwashes that contain triclosan, look for other alternatives.
Companies whose products contain the chemical dispute the FDA's claims wholeheartedly, arguing that there is a wealth of evidence pointing to the effectiveness of anti-bacterial products.
"We are perplexed that the agency would suggest there is no evidence that anti-bacterial soaps are beneficial," Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, told the source. "Our industry sent the FDA in-depth data in 2008 showing that anti-bacterial soaps are more effective in killing germs when compared with non-anti-bacterial soaps."
If you feel you're getting mixed signals, you're not alone. For now, however, it might be best to simply stick with the old-fashioned soap and water as well as toothpaste and alcohol-free mouthwashes that do not contain triclosan.
The agency will accept data from researchers and companies for one year before they begin to finalize a ruling. The FDA wants to lock down regulations to determine whether the products are safe and effective by September 2016.