The FDA has announced plans to review the safety of triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in hundreds of consumer products including soap, toothpaste, toys and clothing. The stepped-up regulatory scrutiny was prompted by recent lab studies showing that bacteria can evolve resistance to the chemical using a mechanism that would help them resist antibiotics as well.
In making the announcement, the FDA said there is no evidence that triclosan is directly harmful to humans or that bacteria in nature have become resistant to triclosan.
The “FDA does not have sufficient evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time,” the agency said.
The new development did not satisfy Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, who called for a ban on the substance. “There are many troubling questions about triclosan’s effectiveness and potentially harmful effects, especially for children,” Markey told MSNBC.
The Soap and Detergent Association has consistently said triclosan is safe. It has been used to reduce bacterial loads in consumer products for nearly 30 years.
An environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, hailed the FDA’s announcement.
“It’s about time FDA has finally stated its concerns about antibacterial chemicals like triclosan,” said the Council’s Sarah Janssen.
“The public deserves to know that these so-called antibacterial products are no more effective in preventing infections than regular soap and water and may, in fact, be dangerous to their health in the long run.”
Experts agree that that triclosan-containing soap does little or nothing more to remove bacteria from the skin than plain soap. Washing hands physically removes excess bacteria from the skin. Soap helps this, with or without triclosan.