The primary active ingredients in most of these soaps are triclosan and triclocarban, chemical agents that do indeed kill bacteria. However, as Perencevich pointed out,
"No scientific data have been published to suggest that the use of antibacterial agents in household products prevents infection."It didn't take long for triclosan to start showing up in freshwater streams and elsewhere in the environment. Triclosan has been detected in the water supply in the U.S., multiple countries in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong. As use of antibacterial soaps proliferated, bacteria resistant to triclosan started to appear–an outcome that any biologist could have predicted, and that many did.
After many years, the FDA finally announced, in December 2013, that manufacturers needed to produce actual data showing that their products worked. They didn't, for the simple reason that antibacterial soaps don't work any better than plain old soap and water.
Finally, this past Friday, the FDA stepped in. They are banning 19 different chemicals, including triclosan. Their announcement states:
"Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections."This has been a very long time coming.
Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than simple hand-washing with regular soap, as Forbes contributor David DiSalvo explained last year. But people have been buying these products anyway, often not realizing that they might be hurting themselves and the environment. As Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, explained in the FDA announcement:
“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. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”Sometimes government regulation is the only effective way to fix a public health problem. Kudos to the FDA for stepping in to protect all of us from potentially deadly outbreaks of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Let's hope that other countries follow the U.S. example.