Back to Basics: The FDA Has Banned Antibacterial Soap

Last Updated on February 22, 2023

On September 2, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced their ban on 19 antibacterial ingredients that are commonly found in soap, body wash, and other consumer goods. Companies have a year to change their formulas or remove products containing any of these chemicals from retail. By September 2017, all businesses will need to find alternatives.

Why are they banned?

Many consumers believe that antibacterial soaps are going to remove more germs and keep them healthier. Theresa M. Michele, MD of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drugs says, “If you use these products because you think they protect you more than soap and water, that’s not correct.”  In 2013, the FDA issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and reducing the spread of certain infections. Under the proposal, if companies do not demonstrate such safety and effectiveness, these products would need to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market. Since then, very little information proving either of these claims has been presented, which has led to the FDA banning the following 19 ingredients:

  • Cloflucarban;
  • Fluorosalan;
  • Hexachlorophene;
  • Hexylresorcinol;
  • Iodophors, which are iodine-containing ingredients;
  • Iodine complex, which is ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate;
  • Iodine complex of phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol;
  • Nonylphenoxypoly, or ethyleneoxy, ethanoliodine;
  • Poloxamer, an iodine complex of Povidone-iodine 5 percent to 10 percent;
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex;
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride;
  • Phenol greater than 1.5 percent;
  • Phenol less than 1.5 percent;
  • Secondary amyltricresols;
  • Sodium oxychlorosene;
  • Tribromsalan;
  • Triclocarban;
  • Triclosan, and
  • Triple dye.
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There are two problems that may arise from consistent, long-term use of triclosan and triclocarbon, the two most commonly used chemicals on this list. One is that hormone levels of users could be negatively affected, as “animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way some hormones work in the body and raises potential concerns for the effects of use in humans.” The other is that “laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics.”

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What to know

The new ban applies to “only consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes that are used with water. It does not apply to hand sanitizers or hand wipes. It also does not apply to antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.”  In the meantime, consumers are advised to switch their hygiene products over to non-antibacterial versions. Plain soap is just as effective at removing and preventing the spread of germs as antibacterial soap without exposure to harsh chemicals.

Citron Hygiene stopped using these ingredients several years ago. Like many other businesses, we saw the use of antibacterial additives was on the decline and we chose to remove them from our hand soap. Keeping our customers safe and healthy in the workplace and in public is the goal for our products. Also, we strive to address our Green Initiative with every product and service we provide, so choosing to eliminate harmful chemicals was an easy decision for us.

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*All quotes from the FDA December 16, 2013 press announcement and September 2, 2016 consumer update.

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