I have been known to joke that my nephew is going to be a bubble boy. He is obsessively protected from any type of germs, and I have actually brought up experts’ opinions about this multiple times. His dad already has major allergies, which is one of the things that experts worry about. So it might just be hereditary. Still the same, at his father’s request, I do some pretty serious hand washing before taking him, and I’m not the only one. People around the US have been using antibacterial soap for years, and we just assume it’s safe (as long as you’re not trying to eat it).
Antibacterial soap can be found in your dishwashing liquids, your laundry detergents, and everyday soaps. It is used to clean just about everything, and federal health regulators are just now starting to question it. Specifically, triclosan, a major germ killing ingredient used in many of these soaps may be ineffective and even harmful.
Let’s put all the talk about super germs in that .01% or whatever it is aside. Triclosan is where it’s at. Recent studies on this chemical have shown that it may lead to infertility, early puberty, and potentially serious hormone problems in people. It may be a bit premature, but then again aren’t we better safe than sorry?
Allison Aiello, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health states,
To me it looks like the risks outweigh any benefit associated with these products right now. At this point, it’s just looking like a superfluous chemical.
Why are officials just reconsidering this now? Well, first they’re not reconsidering. Fun Fact (or not so fun):
a number of chemicals found in everyday household products have never actually been approved by the FDA. Most of these chemicals were formally introduced decades before there were even laws that required scientific testing and review, and they just stayed. The US government just seems to think if it’s not broken, don’t fix it….or if it doesn’t seem broken, don’t fix it.
It’s not uncommon for these types of reviews to drag on for years. So I wouldn’t expect any real upsets or changes any time soon. Congress officially passed a law in 1972 that required the FDA to set guidelines for antibacterial chemicals typically found in over-the-counter soaps and scrubs, and obviously triclosan has slipped by. In 1978, guidelines for chemicals used in hand soaps and washes were passed by the FDA, and triclosan was determined as not meeting the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) standards. At that time, FDA regulators couldn’t find enough proof of its efficacy or safety. The FDA has continued to lag, not officially finding anything that was strong enough to clear the triclosan name OR remove it from the market. In case you haven’t heard though, the FDA tends to be a bit sketchy. Just think of MSG. You may not want it, and you may even search your labels for it. However, the FDA has too far for some, actually allowing manufacturers to hide it under other more vague names such as
Triclosan likewise has been approved to be used in Colgate toothpastes and other products meant to fight gingivitis. Again, there is NOT strong proof it works or strong proof it is safe, but I digress. What can we really expect from the US government these days?
Officially, the FDA has stated that reviews and research on triclosan should wrap up in late 2012. However, as you may have noticed, it’s now 2013 and the date keeps moving back and back and back. Critics haven’t let up. In March, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit, which they hoped would force the FDA to complete their research. This lawsuit reinstated a previous lawsuit, because justices determined that they actually had evidence that proved that triclosan might be dangerous and harmful. As you may expect, Stephanie Yao, a spokeswoman for the FDA, has stated that triclosan is
one of the highest priorities. If that’s high priority, it makes you wonder what happens to the low priority items.
At this point, the FDA website officially states that they don’t have proof it’s dangerous. The American Cleaning Institute (which has obvious vested interest in maintaining sales) has stated that they have provided tons of data that shows that triclosan is both safe and effective. However, they are not providing this
extensive research to the general public. This group is associated with Colgate-Palmolive and Henkel Consumer Goods Inc (the makers of Dial soap). To put some perspective on all of this, the government was
investigating this when Nixon was president.
Science has evolved, and we have discovered new ways to study and evaluate things. We have discovered new facts in many different areas, and realistically FDA guidelines do have to catch up. Dr Andrea Gore at the University of Texas at Austin states,
I think the FDA is behind the curve. At what point do you draw a line and say we need to take this out of products that are being applied to our skin? What is enough evidence?