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Questions about safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soap

Most of us have at least a few bottles of antibacterial soap around the house. We've come to rely on it to help kill germs that can make us sick. That's why some recent news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a lot of people concerned. The FDA has announced that not only is there no evidence that these soaps do anything to get rid of germs, but they may in fact make us sick.

The key ingredient in question is triclosan, which is found in 93 percent of these soaps. Concerns about triclosan go back to the 1970s – not only regarding their effect on people but on the environment. Research on animals has shown that triclosan can cause hormonal changes and make bacteria "resistant to antibiotics." This could impact people who are being treated with for any number of conditions.

The FDA is not taking any action yet to mandate changes to antibacterial soaps. It says it needs more information. That's why it is proposing a rule that would give manufacturers a year to provide evidence that products with ingredients like triclosan are any more effective than regular soap and, more importantly, that they are safe. The FDA is looking at "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" soap products used by consumers, but not items like hand wipes, sanitizers or commercially-used products, like those found in doctors' offices. In addition to data from manufacturers, the FDA is inviting comments from outside researchers.

At this point, there is no conclusive evidence that triclosan poses a danger to humans, since most testing has involved animal subjects. Further, since people generally have the soap on their skin only briefly, that may not be enough time for it to cause any harm. However, even if these products do not pose a danger, if they don't do any more to kill germs than non-antibacterial soap, why expose ourselves and the environment to these chemicals? Defective products are not just those that do not work properly. That term can just as easily describe products that don't do what their manufacturers claim they do.

It will be interesting to find out what this additional research shows, and if, in fact, these soaps can be linked directly to people's health problems. It is something that people in both the medical and legal communities will be watching.

Source: nbcnews.com, "Prove those antibacterial soaps are better and safe, FDA tells makers" Maggie Fox, Dec. 16, 2013

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