Do Antibacterial Products Beat Soap and Water?

Released: 9/12/2016


Will soaps and body washes labeled “antibacterial” keep your family safer by lowering the risk of getting sick, spreading germs or being infected?

The FDA recently issued an update saying no, there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.

Here is how the FDA reached its decision: First of all, the agency studied the issue, reviewing available literature and hosting public meetings. In 2013, it issued a proposed rule requiring safety and efficacy data from manufacturers, consumers, and others if they wanted to continue marketing antibacterial products containing those ingredients.

Manufacturers did not show these ingredients to be any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections

Therefore, the FDA is issuing a final rule under which OTC consumer antiseptic wash products (including liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—will no longer be able to be marketed.

Further, there is no proof that those ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products, ahead of the FDA’s final rule.

“Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”