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The Naked Truth about Antibacterial Soaps

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what is the naked truth about antibacterial soap? Elena Elisseeva/PhotoSpin

There’s no question that properly washing your hands is one of the most important ways to prevent getting sick and spreading germs to others. This is particularly important during flu and cold season.

However, if you are one of the millions of Americans who lather up with antibacterial soaps and body washes as an extra safeguard against infections, you may not be getting your money’s worth.

In fact, “there currently is no evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial (sometimes called antimicrobial or antiseptic) soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” said Colleen Rogers, Ph.D., a lead microbiologist at the FDA.

But perhaps more grave, "new data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits," Rogers said. “Antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients, which may carry unnecessary risks given that their benefits are unproven.”

Some studies have shown certain ingredients in these soaps, such as triclosan and triclocarban, chemicals found in many antibacterial soaps as well as other beauty products, may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. And they “may have unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern to FDA.”

On Dec. 16, 2013, the FDA issued a proposed new rule that would require manufacturers to make more substantial information available to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.

Under the proposed changes, studies that directly test the ability of antibacterial soap to provide a clinical benefit over washing with plain soap and water will be required, Rogers said in a statement. Currently, soap manufacturers don't have to directly test the effect of a product on reducing infection rates.

The proposed rule covers only those consumer soaps and body washes that are used with water and clearly marked as “antibacterial” or contains a “Drugs Facts” label on its packaging. However it doesn’t apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes or antibacterial soaps used in health care settings such as hospitals.

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