FDA expresses caution on antibacterial soap

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged the potential harmful effects of antibacterial chemicals like triclosan, which is used in many soaps and sanitizers. The agency said the chemical is no more effective at preventing infections than just using plain old soap and water, and stated concerns about antibiotic resistance that may build up from using antibacterial products.

The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency say they are taking a closer look at the chemical and will review and evaluate its safety. The research is being conducted in response to inquiries from Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Edward J. Markey, who has been pushing for regulators to take action against the use of chemicals like triclosan, which may have strong health effects on one's development and growth.

So, what should consumers know about triclosan? From the FDA:

  • Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans.

  • FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.

  • In light of questions raised by recent animal studies of triclosan, FDA is reviewing all of the available evidence on this ingredient's safety in consumer products. FDA will communicate the findings of its review to the public in spring 2011.

  • At this time, FDA does not have evidence that triclosan added to antibacterial soaps and body washes provides extra health benefits over soap and water. Consumers concerned about using hand and body soaps with triclosan should wash with regular soap and water.

  • Consumers can check product labels to find out whether products contain triclosan.

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.

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