FDA questions antibacterial soaps

News of FDA questioning the safety of antibacterial soaps highlights what I’ve told you in the past: antibacterial soaps are likely no better than regular soaps and may even be associated with adverse health effects. Now, Federal regulators are asking makers of antibacterial soaps “to prove they are not only better but also that they are safe.” Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, says, “We have no evidence that presence of the anti-bacterial ingredients in these soaps and body washes actually prevent the spread of infection.”

NBC Nightly News says authorities are concerned that the liquid soaps “which contain triclosan or triclocarban may potentially interfere with hormones like estrogen, testosterone and thyroid functions,” and ultimately affect “childhood development and puberty.”

In its broadcast, ABC World News conducts an “unscientific test at the University of Maryland.” After covering “some hands in a brew of thousands of E.Coli bacteria,” the hands were “washed with regular soap and antibacterial soap.” ABC says the regular soap performance matched that of the antibacterial’s, erasing 75 percent of the bacteria.

Still, according to ABC, “the trade group representing antibacterial soaps says they are perplexed that the FDA would suggest that antibiotic soaps are not beneficial.”

CBS Evening News quotes FDA’s Sandra Kwedder, who says that the bacterial soaps are not useful because “most of the illnesses in today’s households and public places are viral illnesses, not bacterial illnesses.”

However, American Cleaning Institute spokesman Brian Sansoni disagrees. He says: “We believe the data shows these products are safe and effective and we certainly hope the FDA realizes that.”

The Wall Street Journal says criticism of antibacterial soaps have focused mainly on three allegations: that they are no better than regular soaps in fighting germs; that they contain compounds that may induce hormonal changes in humans, for instance; and that they give rise to a new breed of antibiotic-resistant germs.

The FDA proposal “was applauded by public health experts,” who, according to the New York Times, “for years have urged the agency to regulate antimicrobial chemicals, warning that they risk scrambling hormones in children and promoting drug-resistant infections.”

Rolf Halden, the director of the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University, “who has been tracking the issue for years,” said, “It’s a big deal that they are taking this on,” adding, “These antimicrobials have taken on a life all of their own.”

The Times says the FDA “has given companies a year to produce data showing that the chemicals are both safe and effective. If they cannot prove, the chemicals will need to be removed from the products.”

Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, also raised questions about the use of antibacterial soaps, according to the Washington Post. The paper quotes Woodcock: “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.”

The Post points out that the FDA’s “proposal does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes or other antibacterials used in hospitals and other medical facilities.” The paper says the agency will accept public comments on its proposal over the next 180 days.

Forbes quotes Colleen Rogers, an FDA microbiologist: “New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits.” Forbes also notes that some hospitals were “first to use and first to phase out” the antibacterial products.

Kaiser Permanente, for example, “pulled products containing triclosan from all of its hospitals across the country back in 2010.” Forbes says the “irony” here is that it “was hospitals’ use of the products that spurred the growth of the chemicals in consumer product lines.”

On its front page, the Boston Globe reports that antibacterial soaps made by companies such as Dial, Lever, and Dove have “chemicals whose safety has been questioned for years.”

Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics & Drug Resistance at Tufts University School of Medicine, commented, “It’s an issue that’s been brewing since the mid-1990s. We’ve been testifying against these products and waiting for the FDA to do something.”

Bloomberg News says the Environmental Protection Agency “also is reviewing triclosan, which the EPA regulates as a pesticide to slow or stop the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew.”