FDA Proposes a New Rule on Triclosan

As always, especially with flu season in full swing, we strongly encourage hand washing. But — and here’s the twist on conventional wisdom — we don’t recommend antibacterial soap. Although HSC has held this view for a while, it seems like the FDA finally agrees.

Late last year, the FDA issued a new proposed rule that would essentially eliminate the use of antibacterial agents such as triclosan from hand soaps. This is an important step in protecting our kids and environment from unnecessary and potentially dangerous chemicals. Triclosan is a common active ingredient in antibacterial hand soap but can also be found in toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics and non-toiletry items, such as kitchen utensils and children’s toys. In one word: yuck.

Recent studies of triclosan tested on animals show some potentially serious health risks including hormone-related problems. Some health experts are also connecting triclosan with strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs”. While there hasn’t been much research studying triclosan’s effects on antibiotic resistance in a real-world environment, lab studies have shown that E. coli and other antibiotic-resistant strains can indeed grow in environments with high levels of triclosan.

Worse, triclosan may not even perform its most-advertised function: stopping germs. Studies have shown that washing one’s hands with soap containing triclosan is no more effective at preventing diseases than washing with regular soap and water.

So, according to the new FDA rule, products such as triclosan will need to pass two tests: Not only will they need to be determined safe for use, they’ll need to prove beneficial beyond regular non-antibacterial products.

In our Quick + Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, we recommend schools use soaps without antibacterial agents or soaps that are certified green by the EPA’s DfE, GreenSeal or ULE standards. At home, look for triclosan-free soaps.

The public comment period on this rule runs through June 16, 2014. HSC will post our comments on the proposed rules in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime, feel free to check out other comments here.