FDA rules "not enough science" to show antibacterial soaps have a benefit. Soap and water "more effective".

From the FDA’s Consumer Updates page:

“Because the manufacturers haven’t proven that the antibacterial ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Also, manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products, ahead of the FDA’s final rule.”

“Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”

 

So, what exactly is the FDA saying to consumers? Triclosan and 18 other ingredients have failed to show a true benefit in fighting germs and COULD HELP make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. These soap companies have one year to remove the 19 active ingredients from their formulas or they will no longer be available to consumers.

Here are the top reasons to NOT use antibacterial products (including soaps) on the skin regularly:

1) It may promote the development of bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics.

2) Killing some bacterial populations will push the microbiome off-equilibrium, allowing other bacteria to colonize the skin.

3) Some antibacterials (natural or synthetic) are also irritating and/or allergenic to the skin.

 

 

Skin bacteria:

It used to be that we only discussed bacteria when speaking about infections. In skin care, it was all about acne and how to kill Propionibacterium acnes. Now, you can see bacteria and the “microbiome” everywhere in magazines to advertise skin care products.

Human skin functions as a physical barricade to stop the entry of pathogens, but also hosts innumerable commensal organisms (commensal means living in a relationship in which one organism derives food or other benefits from another organism without hurting or helping it). The skin cells and the immune system constantly interact with microbes maintaining an equilibrium, despite a continuous change in the environment.

Bacteria are essential to the function of the human body, and many species live in us, and on us. We are familiar with the negative effect of taking oral antibiotics on our gastrointestinal track and the flora that resides there. The probiotic supplement market is booming and even major yogurt brands now carry probiotic formulas.

The type of bacteria depends on the part of the body and on the person, but there will be many in each part, living in peace with each other and with us. So many factors influence the composition of the microbiome, like diet, gender, the environment including ultraviolet radiation, family and other factors that will impact the species composition.

In the skin, many bacterial species will not grow well in culture, so a complete identification of bacteria requires the use of DNA technology. The dry skin surface is dominated by Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteriodetes, and Firmicutes. Moist areas are rich in Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium spp. A lower bacterial diversity is seen in oilier sites, suggesting that only few bacterial communities, like Propionibacterium, can flourish under those conditions; in acne the problem is the abnormal proliferation of this bacterium.

Scientists are getting to know more about the skin microbiome but it will be a lot of research and a long time before we know enough to effect a positive change.

Also, just in case you are not doing it already, stop using antibacterial soaps. Frequent use of some antibacterials will promote the development of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, promoting the proliferation of drug resistant infections, a scourge of medicine.

 

-Dr. Hannah Sivak