'No substantive evidence' to stop using antibacterial soap: Singapore Health Sciences Authority

Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: While washing your hands with regular soap and water would suffice for personal hygiene purposes, there is "no substantive evidence" to stop using antibacterial hand and body washes, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said on Friday (Sep 16).

Replying to Channel NewsAsia's query on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s recent ban of 19 ingredients commonly found in antibacterial hand and body washes, HSA said Singapore is part of the regional framework of the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive, which adopts regulatory principles and requirements similar to European Union (EU) regulations when it comes to cosmetic products such as antibacterial soaps and hand washes.

The FDA had proposed banning the ingredients in 2013 unless companies could prove they were safe and effective, and went ahead with the ban on Sep 2 as it was unsatisfied with the data. The US authority had said that the antibacterial products were no more effective than soap and water, and could cause long-term harm.

However, HSA said Singapore regulated cosmetic products primarily on the "inherent safety" of the active ingredients and had not found evidence of some of these products being harmful to humans.

"Based on the safety assessments by the EU and ASEAN, 13 of the 19 ingredients announced by US FDA are already prohibited for use or only allowed for use with restrictions in Singapore," the spokesperson said.

According to the authority, the 13 ingredients currently already regulated in Singapore are:

Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
Poloxamer-iodine complex
Povidone-iodine (5 per cent to 10 per cent)
Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
Phenol (greater than 1.5 per cent)
Phenol (less than 1.5 per cent)
Triple dye
The authority specifically addressed the use of triclosan, which has been linked to changes to hormone behaviour and antibiotic resistance with long-term exposure in animal studies.

The chemical, while regulated in Singapore, is still allowed as a preservative in cosmetic products at a concentration of 0.3 per cent and in higher concentrations in antiseptic preparations, HSA said, adding that the antibacterial agent has not been shown to be harmful to humans.

Although triclosan is allowed in cosmetic products in Singapore as long as they are within the restrictions, some brands have been quietly taking it off their ingredient list in past years amid health concerns. For example, Shokubutsu's antibacterial body foam was formerly marketed as containing "shiso and triclosan", but triclosan has since been removed from its list of ingredients. Toothpaste brand Darlie's Singapore page also released a statement in August 2014 declaring that its products were triclosan-free.

Another six ingredients banned by the US FDA in antibacterial hand and body washes – cloflucarban, fluorosalan, hexylresorcinol, methylbenzethnium chloride, secondary amyltricresols and sodium oxychlorosene – continue to be allowed without restriction in cosmetic products as "they have not been shown to pose safety concerns in humans", the authority said.

"HSA will also continue to work with our international counterparts to review the long-term safety of these antibacterials and will initiate appropriate regulatory action as necessary," it added in its statement to Channel NewsAsia.

- CNA/mz

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