[CN] – The federal government on Friday banned 19 chemicals used in household antibacterial soaps after manufacturers failed to prove their products are safe and effective.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision primarily targets two common ingredients, triclocarbon and triclosan, which are found in almost every antibacterial soap.
“We have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s drug center director, said in a statement.
The 19 chemicals have been scrutinized for years, prompting the FDA to require manufacturers to demonstrate their efficacy and safety. The companies failed to do over the last three years.
Manufacturers either failed to meet federal standards for proving safety and effectiveness or did not report any data, the FDA said.
For triclosan, regulators said they didn’t receive human or animal studies demonstrating the drug is safe or effective. Most of the research on triclosan’s safety involved laboratory animals like rats, which showed changes in estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones.
Some researchers have worried such changes in humans could increase the risk of infertility, early puberty and cancer, though no scientific connection has been established.
“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs,” Woodcock said. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”
The American Cleaning Institute, a cleaning chemical association, responded to the FDA’s findings in a statement saying “the FDA already has in its hands data that shows the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.”
According to the group’s spokesman, manufacturers are planning to submit data on three chemicals currently used by the industry: benzethonium chloride, chloroxylenol and benzalkonium chloride. The FDA delayed making a decision on those chemicals for one year.
The decision does not apply to hand sanitizers, which generally use alcohol rather than antibacterial chemicals.
It took 40 years from the time Congress asked the FDA to evaluate triclosan and dozens of other antiseptic ingredients for Friday’s ban to happen.
The government only agreed to publish its findings after a three-year legal battle with the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council, which accused regulators of delaying a decision on the safety of triclosan.