Is it the Swan Song for Triclosan?

 As cold and flu season hits again, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a bit of good cheer our way. The agency announced today a new proposed rule that would essentially eliminate chemicals like triclosan from antibacterial soaps. Specifically, FDA said that it does not have enough data about the health impacts of triclosan to say that it is safe to use. And it said that evidence shows that washing hands with regular soap is just as good as using so-called antibacterial soaps. 

Triclosan and its cousin triclocarban are the most common chemicals found in antibacterial hand soaps. And recent studies suggest that we should be concerned about the effect these chemicals may have on our health.

The FDA is tasked with approving products as safe and effective, but has dragged its feet on antibacterial hand soaps for decades. As a result of NRDC’s lawsuit on these delays, FDA agreed to a series of deadlines pushing to finalization of its regulation of hand  soaps. 

Today marks the first deadline in that consent decree, which required FDA to publish a tentative final monograph to regulate consumer hand soaps. For the first time in more than 30 years, we are getting a real preview of the future of triclosan and antibacterial hand soaps. 

In FDA’s first draft monograph in 1978, triclosan and triclocarban were not approved as safe or effective. The problem was that the monograph only went into effect after it was finalized. Since FDA never finalized that draft monograph, triclosan and triclocarban have been allowed in those products and antibacterial soaps have since proliferated on the market.

Therefore, while today’s announcement marks great progress on the regulation of antibacterial soaps, the most important deadline is September 2016 when FDA must finalize its monograph and the rule actually takes effect. Today set FDA on the right path for the final rule and we look forward to getting more good news from FDA in the near future.

About the Authors

Mae Wu

Senior Attorney, Health program

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