Israel Weighs Ban on Anti-bacterial Soaps Following FDA Ruling

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Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Credit: Tali Meyer

The Health Ministry is examining last week’s decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban anti-bacterial soaps containing triclosan in light of what other countries are doing as well as local medical needs.

The assessment will be made after weighing the benefits against the risks, as well as to what extent the products are used. It should be noted that in Israel there is only one antibacterial soap that contains triclosan, while in the United States there are many.

The FDA made a final ruling against the use of antibacterial soaps last Friday, saying that the manufacturers of the products had not proven they are safer or more effective in preventing the spread of germs than plain soap and water, The Guardian reported.

Moreover, recent studies have linked triclosan to a series of disruptions in human and animal health.  A University of Chicago study released in July found that triclosan changed the microbiome inside the human stomach and suggested that exposure could damage developing fetuses. A study from earlier this year found that overuse could also be contributing to antibiotic resistance.

Triclosan has been proven effective at killing bacteria only if used at sustained length – far longer than the few seconds most people spend washing their hands. 

Triclosan can be found in 93 percent of liquid soaps labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial”, according to the FDA, though some companies, including Proctor & Gamble, have already begun phasing the chemical out of products. According to The Guardian, there are partial triclosan bans in the European Union and Minnesota, but the chemical remains common in toothpaste, as it is believed effective against the bacteria that cause gum disease.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s center for evaluation and research, said that certain antimicrobial soaps may not actually serve any health benefits at all.

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” she said in a statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”

The FDA has given manufacturers a year to change their products or pull them off shelves.

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