The Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule on Monday, stipulating that the makers of antibacterial soap must prove that their products are more effective than regular soap in warding off infection and bacteria, reports Reuters.
“Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” the FDA said in a statement.
According to the agency, antibacterial chemicals like triclosan may even be harmful in that consumers may receive hormonal side effects or allow bacteria to develop into drug-resistant organisms.
Dr. Brian S. Koll, medical director and chief of infection prevention at Beth Israel Medical Center, said there is no benefit to using antibacterial soap over regular soap. “What’s important when you wash your hands with regular soap and water is that you wash them correctly – that will not be any less effective than using an antibacterial soap with triclosan,” he said.
In spite of the possibility of developing drug-resistant organisms and side effects, Koll said there’s no need to panic and throw out your antibacterial soap. “I’m a big believer in data and I would work through the process that the FDA is advocating, where the companies that make these products can do a real study or share data they have regarding effectiveness and harm,” he said.
Koll added that most people are concerned about catching colds and other viruses – antibacterial soaps do not protect against these ailments anyway. Moreover, antibacterial soap must sit on the skin for two minutes in order for it to kill bacteria anyway, a step most people skip.
Koll recommends using regular soap and water if possible, though he also pointed out that most commercial soaps tend to be antibacterial.
The FDA’s new rule does not apply to alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which do not have the same side effects. Koll pointed out that the alcohol kills both bacteria and viruses.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark