Manitoba doctor praises FDA crackdown on antibacterial soap claims

A recent crackdown by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on how antibacterial soaps may be marketed has the support of University of Manitoba researcher Denice Bay.

Industry has not proven chemicals like triclosan are effective at killing bacteria, Denice Bay says

There is no scientific evidence that antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs than plain soap and water. (Shutterstock)

A Manitoba researcher says she is glad companies that sell antibacterial soap will no longer be allowed to market the product as being somehow more effective at stopping the spread of germs than ordinary soap and water.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new restrictions on how antibacterial hand and body washes may be marketed.

The FDA issued what is called its final rule on safety and effectiveness of the soaps, saying it applies to products containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including the most commonly used ingredients — triclosan and triclocarban.​

"The FDA has been discussing with many of these chemical companies, many of which needed to provide evidence as to the efficacy of these drugs, and unfortunately I don't think that they've made a definitive case really proving whether or not these compounds are truly effective and necessary in soaps," said Dr. Denice Bay, a professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Denice Bay is a professor in the University of Manitoba's department of medical microbiology. (CBC)

Bay said that not only have producers not been able to show that chemicals such as triclosan are effective, but they may even be making the issue of drug-resistant bacteria worse in the long run.

"Overuse of any compound puts a lot of selective pressure on bacteria to develop resistance mechanisms to these chemicals," Bay said.

The compounds can also make their way into the water table and interfere with growth and reproduction of plants and animals.

Following a 2012 Canadian government study, Health Canada and Environment Canada proposed that industry voluntarily cut the amount of triclosan it uses, particularly in personal-care products that tend to get rinsed away into lakes and rivers.

'Step in the right direction'

Lyne Morissette also welcomed the FDA ruling.

"To me it's a step in the right direction," she said.

Lyne Morissette makes her own soap. (CBC)

She was inspired to seek out natural alternatives when pregnant with her first child 16 years ago.

"My husband and I just decided we didn't want chemicals in our life," Morissette said. "We tried to go very natural. We got rid of all our cleaning chemicals first and tried to get all-natural foods."

From there, Morissette said they eventually decided to create their own soaps.

"We thought if we're not putting cleaning chemicals in our house then we don't want to be putting them on our skin and it morphed into a lifestyle for us," she added.

Antibacterial soap products now must either have the 19 active ingredients in question removed entirely, or else have marketing messaging attesting to their efficacy removed.

The rule doesn't apply to sanitizers or wipes.

Bay added that using regular soap and water is still the most effective way to wash up, as it is known to kill 99 per cent of bacteria when done correctly.