There Is No Proof That Antibacterial Soap Is Better Than Regular Soap, FDA Says

A proposed rule would require companies to show antibacterial soap prevents infection more effectively, or else reformulate products.
Keith Williamson/flickr

There are certain phrases that stick in your head for years, for seemingly no reason. One of these for me is from a book called Germs! Germs! Germs! that I think we read in kindergarten. One page said, “Hot soapy water—what a curse!” and pictured some disgruntled germs fleeing soap bubbles. I think about this while washing my hands sometimes.

Washing your hands can be a scientifically fraught act, though. Are the germs really fleeing our antibacterial soaps? Or are they biding their time, growing ever-stronger? Overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial products can cause germs to grow resistant to the very things we use to kill them. With that in mind, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday announced a proposed rule that would require companies to show that their antibacterial products are safe to use every day and, taking it a step farther, that they are more effective than regular soap and water.

The FDA said in a press release, "There is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. Further, some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products—for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps)—could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects."

"We believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

The proposed rule is now available for public comment for 180 days. Once finalized, companies who haven’t been able to support their claims with data will have to either remove antibacterial ingredients from their soaps, or relabel them to remove the antibacterial claim.

Presented by

Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Health Channel.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In