Chemicals in 'antibacterial' soaps said to have more risk than reward
The Natural Resources Defense Council alleges that for 32 years, the FDA dragged its feet on banning triclosan and triclocarban, two chemicals linked to reproductive harm, from everyday products. The chemicals can also trigger antibiotic resistance and are common in antibacterial soaps.
"Washing your hands with so-called antibacterial soap containing triclosan and triclocarban does nothing different than using regular soap and water," said Jennifer Sass, a senior NRDC scientist. "The idea to have this added level of sanitation is completely unnecessary ... these products do not protect against germs that can get on your hands two seconds after you wash them."
Products with the chemicals include: Neutrogena Deep Clean Body Scrub Bar, CVS Antibacterial Hand Soap, Dial Liquid Soap and Antibacterial Bar Soap, Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap, Cetaphil Gentle Antibacterial Cleansing Bar, Clearasil Daily Face Wash, Dawn Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid, Ajax Antibacterial Dish Liquid, Colgate Total Toothpaste, Right Guard Sport Deodorant, Old Spice Red Zone and High Endurance and Classic deodorants and Vaseline Intensive Care Antibacterial Hand Lotion.
The organization is pushing for the ban because of "green" and clean living marketing, which has multiplied the number of consumer products using these ingredients, said Sass. "Companies just have to take them out," she noted, adding that the only ones benefiting from it all are chemical manufacturers.
Consumers in the U.S. spend $1 billion a year on antibacterial soaps and products, according to the NRDC, with a misguided notion they will protect their families from germs. The CDC has found nearly three-quarters of Americans over the age of six have residues of triclosan in their bodies.
The FDA first recognized the problem and proposed a rule to remove these chemicals from soaps in 1978. As recently as April, the agency again acknowledged that soaps containing triclosan offer no additional benefits over regular soap and water.
Public officials did not immediately respond to a request seeking explanation for the delay.
Until the rule is written into law, triclosan and triclocarban can be widely used without regulatory oversight, despite evidence they can hamper normal hormone function, which could increase breast or prostate cancer risk
To reduce exposure, the NRDC advises consumers to look at product lists of ingredients such as soaps, gels, cleansers, toothpaste, cosmetics and other personal care products, and avoid anything labeled "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial." Other items that may carry those labels and that may contain triclosan and triclocarban include cutting boards, towels, shoes, clothing and bed linens.
Earlier this month, the NRDC also sued the FDA for failing to act on a citizen petition filed almost two years ago to ban the use of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from food packaging.