Sunday 29 December 2013

Anti-bacterial washes safe for humans

TRICLOSAN is an ingredient added to many consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination ("US reviewing safety of anti-bacterial washes"; Dec 18 and "Confusion over anti-bacterial washes" by Dr Quek Koh Choon; Dec 20).

Recent laboratory data involving animals suggests that long-term and daily exposure to certain active ingredients used in anti-bacterial soaps such as triclosan could pose certain health risks.

However, this finding has not been observed in humans, and data showing effects in animals does not always predict effects in humans.

More research is needed to review the effectiveness and long-term safety of antiseptic active ingredients such as triclosan.

Based on the available data, there is insufficient evidence to recommend changing consumer use of anti-bacterial products, including those containing triclosan.

Consumers should continue to wash their hands as an effective way of protecting themselves against germs, using proper handwashing techniques as recommended by the Health Promotion Board at

Consumers concerned about using anti-bacterial hand soaps or body washes containing triclosan can consider washing with just regular soap and water.

In Singapore, triclosan can be used as an antiseptic in topical antiseptic preparations and cosmetic preparations for the treatment of acne, as well as a preservative in cosmetic products, such as hand soaps, body washes and toothpaste.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) previously conducted a risk assessment with triclosan used as a topical antiseptic at a concentration of 1 per cent, and assessed that it is within acceptable safety limits.

As a preservative in cosmetic products to slow or stop the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew, triclosan is allowed to be used up to a maximum of 0.3 per cent.

This limit is also adopted in the European Union and under the Asean Cosmetic Directive.

As these are rinse-off products, there is minimal contact time between the products and the body surface, resulting in minimal exposure of the user to triclosan.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has initiated further scientific and regulatory review of active ingredients found in anti-bacterial products such as triclosan.

HSA is closely monitoring the international developments concerning the review and will initiate appropriate regulatory actions based on the outcome of the review.

Raymond Chua
(Assistant Professor)
Group Director
Health Products Regulation Group

Confusion over anti-bacterial washes

AFTER the H1N1 and severe acute respiratory syndrome episodes, there have been many advertisements touting the use of anti-bacterial washes to prevent infections.

Concerned parents are given the impression that some soaps or washes can prevent their children from getting viral infections, fever and the like.

Wednesday's report ("US reviewing safety of anti-bacterial washes") cited studies that suggest anti-bacterial washes may interfere with hormone levels and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

Such washes cannot combat viral infections; only bacteria are supposed to succumb to them.

But even then, we are aware that antibiotics, much less anti-bacterial washes, given in inadequate doses and over an insufficient period, can cause bacteria to mutate and become resistant to the same drugs.

The washes may even worsen the conditions of those with eczema and skin allergies.

Advertisers should refrain from instilling fear and causing confusion, particularly for over-concerned parents.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)
ST Forum, 20 Dec 2013

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