The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. Under the proposal, if companies do not demonstrate such safety and effectiveness, these products would need to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market.
The action is part of a larger, ongoing review of antibacterial active ingredients by the FDA to ensure these ingredients are proven to be safe and effective, the agency reports. This proposed rule does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.
Although consumers generally view antibacterial hand soap and body wash products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water, the FDA statement explained. In addition, the agency reports, some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products—for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps)—could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.
“Antibacterial soaps and body washes are used widely and frequently by consumers in everyday home, work, school, and public settings, where the risk of infection is relatively low,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk.”
The widespread consumer use of antibacterial products, the accumulated scientific information and concerns raised by health care and consumer groups have prompted the FDA to reevaluate what data are needed to classify the active ingredients in consumer antibacterial products as “generally recognized as safe and effective” or GRASE. Under the proposed rule, manufacturers who want to continue marketing antibacterial products will be required to provide the agency with additional data on the products’ safety and effectiveness, including data from clinical studies to demonstrate that these products are superior to non-antibacterial soaps in preventing human illness or reducing infection.
Almost all soaps labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” contain at least one of the antibacterial ingredients addressed in the proposed rule. The most common active ingredients in antibacterial soaps are triclosan and triclocarban. Some soaps labeled “deodorant” may also contain these ingredients.
The proposed rule does not require the antibacterial soap products to be removed from the market at this time. When the proposed rule is finalized, either companies will have provided data to support an antibacterial claim, or if not, they will have to reformulate (remove antibacterial active ingredients) or relabel (remove the antibacterial claim from the product's labeling) these products in order to continue marketing.
The proposed rule is available for public comment for 180 days, with a concurrent one-year period for companies to submit new data and information, followed by a 60-day rebuttal comment period.