FAQs about Antibacterial Soaps and Triclosan

Q: What is antibacterial soap?

A: Antibacterial soap is soap with the addition of antibacterial ingredients that fight the growth and buildup of bacteria and germs. In Canada, these antibacterial ingredients are regulated and approved for use by Health Canada.

Q: Who should use antibacterial soaps? ?

A: These products are beneficial in institutional and health care settings and in the home.

Q: I know doctors and nurses use antibacterial products in the hospital; are the products sold to consumers the same? Why do I need them at home; I’m not in a hospital.

A: Every day, consumers are exposed to a variety of bacteria and situations that have the potential to cause infection, and we know poor handwashing is connected to the spread of disease. Products for handwashing are formulated to reduce the number of bacteria on the hands and, therefore, reduce the potential for transmission or acquisition of disease. For this reason, the use of antibacterial soaps becomes more an important choice for protecting oneself and one’s family from the spread of germs, and the risk of infections becomes more important from a public health perspective.

Q: Are antibacterial hand and body wash products safe to use?

A: Antibacterial wash products have been used safely by consumers for over 30 years. These products are reviewed and approved by Health Canada.

Q: How are these products regulated?

A: Canada strictly regulates chemicals through our world-leading Chemicals Management Plan to ensure they are safe for use by Canadians. Health Canada is responsible for regulating consumer products like antibacterial soaps. Their regulation is supported by Acts like the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, and Cosmetic Regulations.

Q: What is Triclosan and where is it found?

A: Triclosan is an antibacterial agent mainly used in institutional settings in soaps, and hand sanitizers. It is also found in dental hygiene products as an antibacterial ingredient and in cosmetics, where it is used as a preservative.

Q: I have heard Triclosan poses a risk to the environment, is this true?

A: A final Chemicals Management Plan risk assessment was conducted for Triclosan by Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada. Health Canada determined Triclosan is safe for consumers; however, Environment and Climate Change Canada has concerns about its presence in the environment and is developing a pollution prevention plan.

Q: I’m worried that using antibacterial products will increase antibiotic resistance, is this true?

A: Some confusion arises about the term antibiotic resistance because many products that are antibacterial, like hand washes and cleansers, are sometimes referred to as antibiotic. Antibacterial and antimicrobial consumer products work to slow and prevent the growth of bacteria like microbes, fungi and viruses that may be present on surfaces in the home. Antibiotics are medicines that work to fight bacteria in the body.

Antibiotic resistance happens with the misuse and overuse of antibiotics such that the bacteria in the body they are meant to treat change form, and become less easily treatable. This makes bacterial infections harder to overcome for humans and animals.

Bacterial or microbial resistance is a more general term for the resistance of some bacteria to drugs used to treat viruses, parasites and other illnesses. There is no evidence that at-home or institutional antibacterial products result in bacterial resistance, and it is clear that their benefits to reduce germs are much greater in the prevention of illness in these settings.

Q: How is the term “antibacterial” regulated?

A: The term antibacterial included on any consumer product is considered to be a therapeutic or health claim depending on the nature of the product, and that claim is assessed by Health Canada prior to market authorization. This means that, if approved, this product will be assigned an eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number (DIN) by Health Canada in order for it to be sold to consumers. Seeing one of these numbers on a consumer product means it has been approved for use by Health Canada based on safety and efficacy.