Experts warn about the dangers of antibacterial soaps and cleansers

What was wrong with good old soap and water? That’s the question lying in the wake of an announcement from the Silver Spring, MD-based Food and Drug Administration that it is requiring manufacturers to prove the safety of its antibacterial substances in its soaps and cleansers, excluding antibacterial hand sanitizers. No proof, no chemicals will be allowed and the requirement could be in place by 2016 It’s a move that’s long been coming — health experts have warned the public and various health agencies for years about the use of antibacterial products. Using them, they argued, built up resistance to microbial variants a.k.a. building up “superbugs.” And as the FDA noted in its statement on the issue, not only was there no evidence that these antibacterial products were more effective at warding off sicknesses than the regular practise of washing hands with soap and water, but that these products often contain ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban. In fact, triclosan, which was first introduced in 1972 in a surgical scrub, is already being regulated as a pesticide by the Washington-based Environmental Protection Agency. “New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits,” says Colleen Rogers, a lead microbiologist at FDA. “There are indications that certain ingredients in these soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and may have unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern to FDA.” Some concerns include the effect of these chemicals on sex hormones and nervous systems. Back home in Canada, the concern over antibacterials traces back almost a decade: in 2005, Health Canada warned Canadians to avoid using bacteria-fighting cleaning products such as antibacterial soaps. In 2006, the Canadian Pediatric Society echoed the concern and put out a statement saying that antibacterials in the home were unnecessary. And in 2009, the Canadian Medical Association began its campaign to ban household antibacterial products because of the building up of bacterial resistance Yet, to date, Health Canada only has a limit set on products with the ingredient triclosan as it sits on their Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist. The use of the chemical is allowed up to 0.3 per cent in products and Health Canada reports that the chemical is used in about 1,600 cosmetics and personal care products and 150 health products sold in Canada