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Antibacterial soaps 'scramble' hormones and cause antibiotic resistance

Kimberly Gillan
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Image: Getty Images

Using an antibacterial hand wash won't necessarily make you healthier, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has called for a safety review into antibacterial soaps.

The move comes after studies suggested the soaps could cause antibiotic resistance and alter hormones.

The FDA, which is responsible for approving products for human consumption, have proposed forcing manufacturers to prove that antibacterial soaps are more effective than ordinary soap and water.

"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," said Dr Colleen Rogers, an FDA microbiologist.

This comes after recent studies suggested that ingredients such as triclosan in liquid soaps and triclocarban in bar soaps could lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics or could alter hormone levels.

The studies into hormones were done in animals, but results have not been confirmed in humans.

"New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits," Rogers said.

"Because so many consumers use them, FDA believes that there should be clearly demonstrated benefits to balance any potential risks."

The FDA proposal does not include hand sanitisers or products used in hospitals.

The FDA has given the manufacturers until the end of 2014 to submit clinical trial results to prove their claims, with the FDA finalising new regulations in 2016.

If manufacturers can't prove their health claims, products will have to be relabelled or reformulated.

Until then, most experts agree that plain soap and water are all we need to clean bacteria off our hands.

"Washing your hands is a good thing to do — experiments have shown that if you're going to wash your hands, a simple hand detergent is just as effective as something that's antibacterial," Dr Cheryl Power, a lecturer in microbiology and immunology at the University of Melbourne, told ninemsn recently.

"When we're talking about washing our hands, we're talking about washing off bacteria and viruses picked up from other people and other things. They come off very easily – they don't stick to the skin. So a simple soap and water or the alcohol based ones are thought to be very safe."

Source: BBC Author: Kimberly Gillan; Approving editor: Rory Kinsella


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