An FDA ruling on Sept. 2 bans the use of triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other antiseptics from household soaps because they have not been shown to be safe or even have any benefit.
About 40 percent of soaps use at least one of these chemicals, and the chemicals are also found in toothpaste, baby pacifiers, laundry detergents and clothing. It is in some lip glosses, deodorants and pet shampoos.
The current FDA action bans antiseptics like triclosan in household soaps only. It does not apply to other products like antiseptic gels designed to be used without water, antibacterial toothpaste or the many fabrics and household utensils in which antibacterials are embedded. Data suggest that the toothpastes are very effective for people suffering from gum disease, although it is not clear if they provide substantial benefits for those who don’t have gingivitis.
The FDA is currently evaluating the use of antibacterials in gels and will rule on how those products should be handled once the data are in.
Although antibacterials are still in products all around us, the current ban is a significant step forward in limiting their use.
As microbiologists who study a range of chemicals and microbes, we will explain why we don’t we need to kill all the bacteria. We also will explain how antibiotic soaps may even be bad by contributing to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that can be dangerous.