The next time you're washing your hands and go to lather up, your options may be a bit more limited.
On Friday, September 2, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned antibacterial soaps from the U.S. market. The FDA made the ruling on the basis that manufacturers of these sorts of soap were unable to prove that they provided any additional benefits over the alternative.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's center for evaluation and research, explained in a statement that the idea that antibacterial soaps are more effective cleaning agents than regular ones is unsubstantiated at best, and actively wrong at worst.
"Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water," she wrote. "In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term."
Any soap that contains one or more of 19 chemical compounds is subject to this ruling. Among the more prevalent chemicals affected are triclocarbon, a common ingredient in bar soaps, and triclosan, a common ingredient in liquid ones. As manufacturers begin to comply with the new legislation, you may see a different selection than you are used to in the grocery aisle.
The FDA's judgment does not currently extend to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes, which are currently under investigation. It also does not affect health products meant for certain specific clinical settings.
This rule change should come as little surprise to those that manufacture the soaps. It was first proposed in 2013, following the emergence of research that suggested antibacterial products could impact natural resistance to bacteria and/or human hormones. In the years since this discovery, companies have either been unwilling or unable to produce evidence that their products had sufficient health benefits to offset these risks.
This ruling does not diminish the importance of regular hygiene - washing your hands with soap and water remains an important part of overall cleanliness. If you can't get to soap and water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol. These measures can help prevent the spread of disease and keep you and your loved ones healthy.