Workplace Solutions Occupational illnesses

Banned handwashing products

Can you bring me up to speed on which handwashing product ingredients are no longer compliant with federal regulations?

Responding is Matt Cloward, marketing manager, Deb Group Ltd., Charlotte, NC.

How frequently does your organization review the ingredients contained in the handwashing products it uses? Many of the ingredients commonly found in these products are part of recent federal rulings banning their use because of elevated environmental danger. Although these rulings are intended to scale back the environmental effects of these ingredients, they directly affect the products organizations provide to workers to clean hands and maintain skin health and hygiene.

Microbeads (polybeads)

Microbeads are used as exfoliants in different personal care products, from toothpastes to heavy-duty hand-cleansing pastes. Natural biodegradable scrubbing agents, such as cornmeal and walnut shell powder, are safe for skin and highly effective as scrubbers, but are more expensive than plastic beads and not as easily formulated. Unfavorable ingredients come with a price advantage for the manufacturer, but at a high price for the environment. One liter of heavy-duty hand soap may contain 1 to 2 ounces of microbeads. These particles are so small that they are not caught by most waste-water treatment filters and end up in streams, lakes and oceans. Microbeads often are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and other marine animals. Although eating plastic beads will not kill marine animals immediately, it is suspected they will inhibit their digestion, as well as add to the persistence of inorganic pollutants in the water and surrounding environments.

To address the environmental effects of polybeads, former President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in December 2015. This bill bans all plastic particles in rinse-off cosmetics and rinse-off drug cosmetics (prescription drugs are exempt). Manufacturers were required to stop producing products with microbeads by July 1; the deadline to remove these products from interstate commerce is July 1, 2018. (For more information on the Microbead-Free Waters Act, visit and search “microbeads.”)


In the past decade, consumers’ fears of germs boosted the market for antibacterial products. However, little scientific evidence is available to prove that the use of antibacterial handwashes in consumer settings – such as public washrooms, schools and at home – help prevent infection and bacteria-induced disease. Additionally, washing hands with soap and water removes up to 99 percent of germs and is considered completely adequate for these settings. In contrast, increasing scientific evidence suggests that antimicrobial actives are accumulating in our environment. Triclosan can have hormone-like activity on aquatic life and is linked to the forming of bacteria-resistant strains.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling for over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products on Sept. 2, 2016. The new monograph comes into full effect on Sept. 6. After that, it is not permissible to introduce consumer antibacterial handwashes with Triclosan into interstate commerce. Product that already is at an end-user facility at that date can be used. This new ruling applies only to products intended for use by the general population. Products intended to be used by professionals in health care settings or by professional food handlers are not affected by this ruling. (For more information on the Triclosan ruling, visit and search for “Triclosan ruling.”)

FDA’s mission is to protect the public health, and therefore is continually evaluating products and updating related regulations. It is critical for organizations to stay apprised of changes affecting the products they bring into their facilities, as the effects can be felt long after they are used up and rinsed away. Make sure the hand soaps you use at home and in your washrooms at work are free of microbeads and Triclosan to keep you and the environment safe and healthy, and to ensure your products are compliant with federal regulations.

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