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The FDA has called B.S. on antibacterial soaps


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Photo: Unsplash/Drew Hays

In a major victory for the clean beauty revolution, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today confirmed that antibacterial soaps aren’t any more effective than natural soap and water—and that they may actually be hurting us more than they’re helping. (Add this to the reasons to celebrate during the long weekend.)

The agency’s ruling zeroes in on triclosan and triclocarban, two controversial anti-microbials that are used in over 90 percent of liquid antibacterial products currently on the market. Back in 2013, the FDA asked brands to prove that the chemicals were truly effective in killing germs; they weren’t able to do so, and now the government has given them a year to remove the sketchy pair (plus 17 other chemicals) from all products on store shelves.

“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,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement released by the agency. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.” (Like potentially disrupting your endocrine system, throwing gut bacteria out of whack, and making us more prone to allergies, for starters.)

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never see an antibacterial soap again—manufacturers still have a year to prove that a few less commonly used ingredients are safe and effective, including benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol (PCMX). The ruling also doesn’t affect liquid hand sanitizers (which are usually alcohol-based) or antibacterial hand washes used in hospitals or areas where food is prepared. And you’ll still see triclosan on the ingredients list of other products, including toothpaste and antimicrobial activewear.

But still, getting it removed from an entire category of products is a major coup—on par with the government’s smack-down on microbeads earlier this year—and you’ve got to commend the feds for taking such a bold step toward making our personal-care products a little less scary. Now, can we focus on getting lead and arsenic out of lip glosses next?

After you’ve said bye to triclosan, restock your sinks with these seven all-natural bar soaps—and, while you’re at it, you may as well replace your cult beauty products with cleaner alternatives, too. (Since those lip kits are about as natural as Kylie’s lips.)