Finberg: Antibacterial products no better against germs than basic soap

FDA calling on antibacterial soap makers to prove effectiveness

By Lisa M. Larson and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

December 16, 2013

Antibacterial hand soaps have never been shown to be more effective than ordinary soap and water, and may be contributing to antibiotic resistance, according to UMass Medical School infectious disease expert Robert W. Finberg, MD.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is calling on antibacterial soap manufacturers to prove that their products are safe and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness. If those claims can’t be substantiated, the products will need to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market, according to a Dec. 16 proposal made by the FDA.

“To my knowledge, there is no evidence that putting antibiotics into soaps is helpful,” said Dr. Finberg, the Richard M. Haidack Professor of Medicine and chair and professor of medicine. “There’s some reason to believe it may actually be harmful. We know when we use antibiotics in patients or in animals, organisms develop resistance. Resistance is a problem, particularly in our hospitals.”

Finberg said people should wash their hands with non-antibacterial soap frequently, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“While the FDA continues to collect additional information on antibacterial hand soaps and body washes, we encourage consumers to make an educated choice about what products they choose to use,” said Sandra Kweder, MD, deputy director of the Office of New Drugs at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a statement. “Washing with plain soap and running water is one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.”