Minnesota Bans Widely Used (But Pretty Much Useless) Antibacterial Soap Ingredient

In spite of the fact that the FDA has said that soap containing the antibacterial chemical triclosan is really no better at preventing the spread of germs than simply washing your hands with regular hot soap and water, it’s still widely used in soaps, cosmetics, deodorants and some toothpastes. And so the Minnesota state legislature recently voted to ban the use of triclosan.

The AP reports that the law, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday, would prohibit the use of triclosan in most retail consumer hygiene products, though that ban won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017, giving the makers of these products more than two years to get rid of it.

Triclosan has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, given its use in 75% of all antibacterial soaps and body washes sold in the U.S. and concerns that overexposure to the chemical may result in hormonal disruption.

And since antibacterial soaps are too-often used in places where there is little to no risk of infection, users of these products may be unnecessarily contributing to the development of triclosan-resistant bacteria.

Late last year, the FDA gave the makers of soaps containing triclosan a year to provide evidence that their products are safe for everyday use.

“Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” explained Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, at the time.

The American Cleaning Institute, which sounds like the dullest school you could ever hope to attend, maintains that triclosan is perfectly safe and that Minnesota legislators should follow the FDA’s lead on this matter.

“Instead of letting federal regulators do their jobs, the legislation would take safe, effective and beneficial products off the shelves of Minnesota grocery, convenience and drug stores,” wrote the trade group’s vice president and counsel for governmental affairs, wrote in a letter to Gov. Dayton asking him to stop the bill.

With Minnesota becoming the first state to ban the chemical, what remains to be seen is whether or not the companies who make these antibacterial products will reformulate with a substitute for the Minnesota market or whether they will simply not make these products available for sale in the state after the deadline passes.

However, it’s possible that many of the manufacturers could voluntarily ditch triclosan in the intervening years. Procter & Gamble has already removed it from a number of products and still pledges to be triclosan-free by the end of 2014. Johnson & Johnson began getting rid of triclosan in 2012 with plans to be free of it by 2015. Avon recently announced its new products would not contain the chemical and that it would phase out its use in existing products.