New Zealand should follow the US and ban some antibacterial handwash ingredients, which are no more effective than soap and contribute to antibiotic resistance, a toxicologist says.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned 19 active ingredients found in household antibacterial products, including two of the most common ingredients, triclosan and triclocarban.
In a ruling issued over the weekend, it said manufacturers had not been able to show the products were safe for long-term daily use, or that they were more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and infection.
"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," FDA drug evaluation and research director Janet Woodcock said.
"In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term."
Toxicologist Louis Tremblay said New Zealand should follow suit.
"Triclosan and those other chemicals that have broad-spectrum antibiotic properties ... need to be used in a way that's optimised - over-using it leads to resistance."
An old-fashioned bar of soap was just as effective at preventing illness and infection, Dr Tremblay said.
"By the time you apply the liquid [antibacterial] soap on your hands and then rinse it, there hasn't been time for triclosan to act on your hands."
Hamilton dermatologist Amanda Oakley said New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) should be looking at the US ruling very carefully.
"Dermatologists are excited that notice is being taken of a potentially harmful and heavily marketed set of unnecessary ingredients."
She, too, emphasised the possibility that antibacterial handwashes could be contributing to antibiotic resistance.
"Adding antibacterial substances to normal household materials could increase the risk that the bacteria select themselves out so that bad bacteria that can outlive those substances survive."
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was aware of the ruling but would not comment on it yet.
"We will be looking at it to determine whether there is any significant new information and assess its relevance to New Zealand."
However, the EPA had just upheld an application from the Green Party to reassess triclosan, one of the most commonly used substances on the FDA banned list.
"This decision determined that there were grounds for reassessment, which means that any person or organisation can apply to have the substance reassessed," the spokeswoman said.
No application to reassess triclosan had been received yet, though.
Triclosan was used in a wide variety of personal hygiene products, including soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo and body washes, the EPA said.
The FDA ruling did not apply to hand sanitisers.
The full list of ingredients the FDA has banned from consumer antispectic wash products is:
- Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
- Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
- Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
- Poloxamer-iodine complex
- Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
- Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
- Methylbenzethonium chloride
- Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
- Phenol (less than 1.5 percent)
- Secondary amyltricresols
- Sodium oxychlorosene
- Triple dye