Shoppers are used to seeing “antibacterial” labels on hand soaps and body washes but often don’t think much about what’s behind that labeling.
Nobody likes bacteria, so what shopper wouldn’t be drawn to a product that bills itself as antimicrobial or antibacterial? The problem is that the ingredients used to fight bacteria — triclosan in liquid soaps and triclocarban in bar soap — are thought to pose serious risks such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.
Because of consumers’ extensive exposure to antibacterial ingredients, even in situations where the chances of infection are extremely low, scientists fear that stronger, more resistant strains of bacteria will soon evolve, posing a serious health concern.
The Food and Drug Administration last month wisely proposed rules that would place the burden on manufacturers of soap and body wash products that use such labeling to prove their products are safe to use for the long run and perform any better than a scrubbing with good old-fashioned soap and water. Hand sanitizers, wipes or other antibacterial products used in hospitals and medical facilities would not be affected by the proposed rulings.
Companies will not have to pull any products off the shelves but would, if the proposed rules are adopted, have to reformulate or relabel the products.
This is one bureaucratic rule that makes sense. It’s foolish to possibly weaken society’s long-range abilities to fight bacteria so a manufacturer can sell more soap. The proposed rule clearly places responsibility on the manufacturer to prove its product isn’t harmful and that it’s necessary. The FDA should adopt the proposed rules and we can all wash our hands of this potentially vexing problem.