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Marketplace Morning Report

Is antibacterial soap actually making us sicker?

Stacey Vanek Smith Dec 17, 2013
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The FDA is asking makers of antibacterial soap to prove their product is more effective than regular soap.
Flickr user peapod labs/Creative Commons

Flu season is in full swing and as many of us get ready to travel for the holidays, we’re all trying our remedies of choice to avoid getting sick. A lot of people use antibacterial hand soap to help stay flu-free. But now, the Food and Drug Administration is asking makers of antibacterial soap to prove their product is more effective than regular soap.

Antibacterial soap is very popular. Millions of Americans use it, and it’s a billion dollar industry encompassing all kinds of products — from body wash to toothpaste. Now, there’s a concern that too much exposure to the active ingredient in these products could cause health problems, like creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and having hormonal effects on people. And, the FDA says there’s no evidence that these products are more effective than regular soap at preventing people from getting sick.

While there are a number of antibacterial products out there used in a wide range of industries, the FDA is focusing on consumer products like body wash, toothpaste, and soap. Products like hand sanitizers — which are seen as safer because they’re mostly alcohol or ethanol — and antibacterial cleansers used in places like hospitals and doctors’ offices aren’t under the same scrutiny.

But nothing is coming off the shelf right now. Companies have a year to prove antibacterial products are safe and more effective than regular soap. If they can’t, they will have to change their formula or re-label their products.

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