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Triclosan—the active ingredient in a number of antibacterial products—may be ineffective and pose health risks, according to new proposed rulings by the FDA.

Earlier this week the FDA issued a proposed rule that would require manufacturers to “prove that their antibacterial cleaners are safe and more effective than plain soap and water,” reports USA Today. “If companies can’t show that their products are safe and effective, the soaps would have to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market.”

According to Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the office of new drugs at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the companies selling antibacterial products containing triclosan should actually test them first, so that consumers can be certain there’s a benefit to using them instead of just soap and water.

Among concerns over the safety of triclosan is the chemical’s ability to interfere with hormones, as well as the inability to effectively kill harmful germs. “Consumers assume that by using antibacterial soap products they’re protecting themselves and their families from illness — but we don’t have any evidence that they’re better than simple soap and water,” Kweder said. Promotional advertising for many antibacterial products these makes consumers think they can prevent illness, but Kweder says those images show people with viral illnesses (like the common flu). And antibacterial soaps only fight bacteria—not viruses.

Kweder noted that the only effective use of triclosan currently is as an anti-gingivitis ingredient in toothpaste.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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