Antibacterial Soaps Could Be a Total Waste

A new study pours cold water on the sudsy $450 million soap market

  • Share
  • Read Later

Like most Americans, you've probably contributed to the $450 million market for antibacterial soaps, under the impression that they would ward off any number of harmful microbes. (Staph, strep and E. coli, for example, have all been found on bathroom doorknobs.) But according to a new proposal from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), those extra dollars may have been a total waste.

A growing number of studies suggest that antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan--used in soaps from Henkel (maker of Dial), Procter & Gamble (maker of Safeguard) and other companies--may cause harms like hormone disruption. Citing that research, the FDA is requiring manufacturers to justify the potential risks by verifying that their products are more effective than ordinary soap and water at lowering the risk of infections like the kind that cause stomach ailments.

Companies have a year to provide the requested data, which the industry says is available. But they will have to do more long-term, real-world trials--as opposed to the lab studies that make up most of the evidence now--to meet the FDA's new standards. If the results aren't convincing, they'll have to remove antibacterial ingredients from their products and relabel them as old-fashioned soaps--an effort that may cost up to $368 million.