Antibacterial soaps may pose health risks
The US Food and Drug Administration says chemicals in many antibacterial soaps thought to fight germs may pose health risks.PT1M35S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2zicf 620 349 December 17, 2013
Antibacterial soaps and washes are no more effective than regular soap and water and may even pose a threat to human health, the US drug regulator has warned.
The regulator is proposing a new rule that will force the makers of such products to prove that they are both safe for long-term daily use, and effective, if they want to continue selling them.
Infectious diseases experts say the products do nothing more than prey on people's fears of dirt and grime, while environmental groups say their additives should be banned outright.
Won't wash: regular soap is as effective as anti-bacterial soap, the US health regulator says. Photo: Wayne Venables
“These products are just the industry trying to capitalise on people's anxieties,” said Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor of epidemiology of healthcare associated infections and infectious diseases control at the University of NSW.
“Soap, water, and rubbing your hands vigorously is all you need, you just don't need anything else."
Professor McLaws said a "trifecta" of the three produced the best results, but that the rubbing motion could even be beneficial in cases where water was not available – for example, if you rubbed your hands vigorously with sand at the beach.
“However, none of it is enough to get the germs from under your fingernails – you really need a brush for that,” she said.
The warning only applies to products sold in the community that use water, rather than wipes and hand-sanitisers.
Professor McLaws said that was likely because most of the research had been done into soaps and washes, and they were most commonly used.
The US Food and Drug Administration said a combination of emerging scientific research and the wide-spread use of the products had prompted the review.
“Antibacterial soaps and body washes are used widely and frequently by consumers in everyday ... settings, where the risk of infection is relatively low,” Janet Woodcock, director of the administration's centre for drug evaluation and research, said in a statement.
“Due to consumers' extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk.”
The administration said it was particularly concerned about data suggesting long-term exposure to triclosan, found in some liquid soaps, and triclocarban, in bar soaps, could increase antibiotic resistance and cause hormonal effects.
Louise Sales, the nanotechnology project co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, which has long campaigned against the ingredients, said she was disappointed the administration did not go further.
“Ultimately, we would like to see anti-microbials banned in consumer products. We think they are completely unnecessary and their widespread use is contributing to antibiotic resistance,” she said.
She said bacteria that were exposed to the products could become resistant to the agents used in them, and were able to pass this genetic resistance on to other bacteria, even if they were a different species.
“They are very adept at exchanging genetic material, which is what makes them so adaptable – and it's why we have such a growing problem with superbugs globally,” she said.
She called on Australian authorities to follow the administration's lead, and said other nano products, such as nanosilver, should also be reviewed.
A spokeswoman for Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration said it was aware of the US review, and would monitor any developments.