Is This the End of Antibacterial Soap?

The Food and Drug Administration announced that it is cracking down on soap, and this is great news for Purell.

The FDA published a consumer update Monday on triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soap, stating, "In fact, there currently is no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water."

And, "Moreover, antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients, such as triclosan and triclocarban, which may carry unnecessary risks given that their benefits are unproven."

The FDA will propose a rule that would put greater onus on manufacturers to back up the "antibacterial" claim.

True, much of the benefit of soap comes from the mere act of rubbing your hands together and rinsing them with water. But as the FDA casts a wary eye toward hand soaps, there is a (slightly more) proven alternative — alcohol.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Alcohol-based products are more effective for standard handwashing or hand antisepsis by HCWs [health care workers] than soap or antimicrobial soaps." However, the CDC notes, in too-small volumes (.2 to .5 ml) soap and water are better than alcohol-based sanitizers. The FDA does mention, however, that for food-service personnel, hand sanitizers are no substitution for washing.

That being said, there's still some questions being raised about hand sanitizers. The FDA has also called out alcohol-based hand sanitizers in the past for claims that they can prevent MRSA infections. And it is still unclear whether they work "equally well for all classes of germs," the CDC reports.

In any case, GOJO, the maker of Purell, is happy to point out that its product does not contain triclosan.