Are antibacterial products beneficial? - WNCN: News, Weather

Are antibacterial products beneficial?

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Millions of shoppers choose the antibacterial option over traditional soap, but the U.S. Federal Drug Administration now says antibacterial soaps do not prevent illness any more than plain soap.

"We do not have good evidence that antibacterial products prevent illness in the community better than plain soap and water," said Art Baker, an infectious disease fellow at Duke Hospital. 

Baker said the understanding of what is "antibacterial" is changing. He said recent studies have shed new light on antibacterial products.


"Recent studies have suggested that some of the chemicals in antibacterial products -- triclosan and triclocarban -- may be harmful to laboratory animals or wildlife," Baker said.

It is still unclear if these chemicals are harmful to humans. The FDA recently asked companies that produce antibacterial soaps and body washes to prove within a year that their products are safe.

The FDA believes triclocarban could pose health risks like bacterial resistance or hormonal changes.

The parent company for well-known soap and body wash producer Dial said it will work with the FDA to ensure its products are safe.

"We will work with the FDA to ensure we are able to continue providing consumers with the safe, effective and high quality products they demand," Henkel said. 

But Dial isn't the only brand with triclocarban or triclosan. Many other brands use these ingredients in their products as well.

Teachers, like first-grade teacher Yolanda Barham, use antibacterial products multiple times a day to protect themselves and their students. Barham said she washes her hands at least once an hour.

"I have 24 children in my class," Barham said. "I have to be cautious."

Barham said she was constantly sick at the beginning of her teaching career, leading her to use rubber gloves, Lysol and antibacterial soaps to protect her.

"The germs they talk about today -- a new strain of flu -- and it's kind of alarming and you probably need more defenses against something like that," Barham said.

She is surprised with the FDA's concerns with antibacterial products.

"If they find that it is conclusive that it's ineffective or dangerous, I would definitely just use soap and water," Barham said.

Dana Applegate, who is studying at North Carolina State University to become a veterinarian, said she has been taught to wash with antibacterial soap after every biology lab.

"Working with animals at my job, we always wash our hands after. So, it is kind of crazy to think that this product I've been using my whole life could actually could be harming me," Applegate said.  "I'll definitely put more thought into what soap products I'm buying."

The FDA said hospitals and medical facilities are exempt from this mandate. It does not apply to their hand sanitizing wipes or antibacterial products as they buy from companies who specialize in medical products.


Eileen Park

Eileen joined WNCN after years of working as a foreign correspondent. During her time off, she enjoys relaxing with her dogs, reading, and exploring the Triangle. More>>

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