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Experts Stick Up for Plain Old Soap

October 21, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Popular antibacterial soaps and washes offer no more protection than regular soap and water, a federal advisory panel said Thursday, telling companies to prove their products are better if they expect to continue making claims to the public.

The independent expert panel, which advises the Food and Drug Administration, said in an 11-1 vote that it saw no added benefits to antibacterials when compared with soapy hand-washing.

Panelists also said soaps that use synthetic chemicals -- as do many products which claim to eliminate 99% of germs they encounter -- could contribute to the growth of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Those risks, combined with a lack of demonstrated benefits compared to soap and water, raised the prospect of new limits on an industry that has grown greatly in the last decade.

The experts did not vote to recommend that the FDA take any specific regulatory action against antibacterials, but did urge the agency to study the products' risks versus benefits.

"There's no evidence they are a good value," said Dr. Alastair Wood, chairman of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee.

Still, members of the panel wondered whether antibacterials might provide added benefit to some people who are particularly at risk for certain illnesses.

The FDA is not bound by the decisions of its advisory panels, but often follows their advice.

Representatives of the soap industry say antibacterials are safe and more effective than regular soap. The industry contends that killing germs is better than washing them off.

Industry representatives said they would provide more data to the FDA showing the products were safe and effective.

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