Is This the End of Antibacterial Soap?

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Dec. 16, 2013, 7:33 a.m.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it is crack­ing down on soap, and this is great news for Purell.

The FDA pub­lished a con­sumer up­date Monday on triclosan, the act­ive in­gredi­ent in an­ti­bac­teri­al soap, stat­ing, “In fact, there cur­rently is no evid­ence that over-the-counter an­ti­bac­teri­al soap products are any more ef­fect­ive at pre­vent­ing ill­ness than wash­ing with plain soap and wa­ter.”

And, “Moreover, an­ti­bac­teri­al soap products con­tain chem­ic­al in­gredi­ents, such as triclosan and triclo­car­b­an, which may carry un­ne­ces­sary risks giv­en that their be­ne­fits are un­proven.”

The FDA will pro­pose a rule that would put great­er onus on man­u­fac­tur­ers to back up the “an­ti­bac­teri­al” claim.

True, much of the be­ne­fit of soap comes from the mere act of rub­bing your hands to­geth­er and rins­ing them with wa­ter. But as the FDA casts a wary eye to­ward hand soaps, there is a (slightly more) proven al­tern­at­ive — al­co­hol.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, “Al­co­hol-based products are more ef­fect­ive for stand­ard hand­wash­ing or hand an­ti­sepsis by HCWs [health care work­ers] than soap or an­ti­mi­cro­bi­al soaps.” However, the CDC notes, in too-small volumes (.2 to .5 ml) soap and wa­ter are bet­ter than al­co­hol-based san­it­izers. The FDA does men­tion, however, that for food-ser­vice per­son­nel, hand san­it­izers are no sub­sti­tu­tion for wash­ing.

That be­ing said, there’s still some ques­tions be­ing raised about hand san­it­izers. The FDA has also called out al­co­hol-based hand san­it­izers in the past for claims that they can pre­vent MRSA in­fec­tions. And it is still un­clear wheth­er they work “equally well for all classes of germs,” the CDC re­ports.

In any case, GOJO, the maker of Purell, is happy to point out that its product does not con­tain triclosan.

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