For quite a while now, soaps labeled as "antibacterial" have been warming the hearts of clean freaks in America. But antibacterial soap will be banned soon, so it's time to let go of these unnecessary products and their dubious claims. Don't worry, you won't become any dirtier in the process, just more environmentally friendly, and you'll probably save a few bucks too.
This antibacterial products ban will come as a result of a new ruling released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As they note, antibacterial soap manufacturers have failed to meet their burden of proof in showing that the antibacterial ingredients are safe for common use over the long term. The FDA asked the manufacturers for more safety info about antibacterial soaps a few years ago, and they haven't really gotten it.
Meanwhile, safety concerns about antibacterial ingredients have surfaced based on scary animal studies involving them (e.g. liver tumors, weakened hearts and skeletal muscles, and more). Though those studies aren't airtight, manufacturers simply haven't done enough to prove the products are safe for typical human use either. Antibacterial ingredients might be accumulating in our groundwater, making it harder to roll back their ill effects later.
From a public health perspective, some scientists worry that widespread use of antibacterial soaps could create antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." This can happen because, when types of bacteria are exposed to antibacterial ingredients too frequently, the weak bacteria get killed while the strong mutants survive. After long enough, you'll be left with way more of the strong mutant bacteria. Not good.
Moreover, antibacterial soap doesn't work better than regular soap! Getting germs off is more a function of the rubbing and rinsing of hands, not the specific soap you choose. Several studies have shown this over the years. When you combine the several possible downsides of antibacterial soap with its non-existent upsides, you get the new ban. Seems like only the sellers of antibacterial soap were coming out ahead before (they're fighting the ruling, of course). You can read the full FDA statement on antibacterial soaps on their website.
It's awesome that manufacturers have brought us such a wide variety of personal care products at reasonable prices, but we all have to find a way to share the same earth. Whatever you choose to wash with is only your own business, right until it begins to affect other people. They already banned microbeads in beauty products, too — these tiny scrubby plastic particles contaminate water supplies and are very, very difficult to remove.
But for now, your antibacterial hand sanitizer is safe — the new FDA ruling does not apply to sanitizers like hand gels, foams, sprays, and wipes (or to antibacterial products specifically for health care settings). These sanitizers are being evaluated separately by the FDA, because they are used in different environments (like cafeterias of cruise ships, as I know from personal experience) so a different cost and benefit analysis will apply.
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