Why Did the FDA Recently Ban 19 Chemicals Found in Antibacterial Soaps?

antibacterial soap
Toxins and Chemicals

On September 2, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned most antibacterial soaps and body washes currently on store shelves, saying the products pose health risks, and don’t work any better than regular soap. [1]

The FDA gave companies a year to take triclosan, triclocarban, and 17 other chemicals out of their products. Triclosan is found in about 2,000 liquid products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial,” which accounts for about 93% of liquid soaps.

The agency said in a statement:

“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.

Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products.”

One of those companies is Avon, which announced in 2014 that it would no longer include triclosan in its new products, saying that it was “identifying alternatives or changing formulations for the small number of existing products that had included triclosan among their ingredients.”

The Dangers of Triclosan

The first thing you must understand about germ-killing chemicals like triclosan is that humans need germsEveryone wants to avoid flu and colds, but there is such a thing as being too clean.

Superbugs. As you repeatedly coat your hands in antimicrobial soap, the germs you’re trying to kill mutate and become resistant to the chemicals and eventually get even stronger. Some research suggests that this process is resulting in germs becoming resistant to antibiotics. Instead of getting rid of germs, triclosan-containing products are helping them evolve and become more dangerous.

Damage to the heart and body. A study published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that triclosan impairs muscle function in humans, mice, and fish. Exposure to the chemical could eventually lead to heart disease and heart failure caused by reduced contractions in cardiac and skeletal muscles.

Even mice that were exposed to low concentrations of triclosan experienced a 25% reduction in heart function within just an hour, which can be deadly or debilitating.

It’s useless. One of the reasons the FDA banned triclosan is that it simply doesn’t work. A study published last September in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that antibacterial soaps provide no benefit over washing your hands with regular soap and water.

The reason why triclosan doesn’t work any better than soap and water is the same reason why some people end up getting sick even when they do wash with soap and water – they don’t scrub long enough.

Min Suk Rhee, one of the study’s co-authors, explained:

“[The] antiseptic effect of triclosan depends on its exposure concentration and time.”

Triclosan cracks open the cell walls of bacteria, killing them. However, it takes several hours to accomplish this, so the average brief scrub doesn’t cut it.

In other words, people have been exposing themselves to a dangerous chemical, but without using it long enough to effectively kill germs.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said of the agency’s decision to ban triclosan and the other chemicals:

“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.”

There is also evidence to suggest that triclosan may be a hormone disruptor, and may contribute to breast cancer.


The Impending Changes

The FDA’s proposed rule only affects hand soaps and body washes. Toothpaste is exempt, because studies have shown that triclosan is effective at killing the germs that cause gum disease.

Additionally, the ban would not apply to hand sanitizers, antiseptic products used in healthcare settings, and antiseptics used in food handler settings. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that if plain hand soap is not available, people should choose an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. [2]

The agency said:

“In response to comments submitted by industry, the FDA has deferred rulemaking for one year on three additional ingredients used in consumer wash products – benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) – to allow for the development and submission of new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients.” [1]

The FDA added:

“Consumer antibacterial washes containing these specific ingredients may be marketed during this time while data are being collected.”

The Other 17 Banned Chemicals

  • Cloflucarban
  • Fluorosalan
  • Hexachlorophene
  • Hexylresorcinol
  • Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
  • Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
  • Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
  • Poloxamer-iodine complex
  • Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride
  • Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
  • Phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16
  • Secondary amyltricresols
  • Sodium oxychlorosene
  • Tribromsalan
  • Triple dye [3]


[1] NBC News

[2] HealthDay

[3] NPR