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Special Article
August 2002

Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Consumer Products

Litjen Tan, PhD; Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD; Donald C. Young, MD; et al Zoltan Trizna, MD, PhD; for the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association
Author Affiliations

From the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association, Chicago, Ill.

Arch Dermatol. 2002;138(8):1082-1086. doi:10.1001/archderm.138.8.1082

Objectives  To summarize available data on the effectiveness of antimicrobial ingredients in consumer products such as hand lotions and soaps and to discuss the implications of such use on antimicrobial resistance.

Data Sources  We searched the MEDLINE database, 1966 to 2001, using the search term resistance qualified with the terms consumer product(s), OR soap, OR lotion, OR triclosan, and LexisNexis and the World Wide Web using the search strategy antimicrobial resistance AND consumer product.

Data Extraction  English-language articles were selected that provided information on the use of antimicrobial ingredients in consumer products and the effect of this use on antimicrobial resistance.

Data Synthesis  Despite the recent substantial increase in the use of antimicrobial ingredients in consumer products, the effects of this practice have not been studied extensively. No data support the efficacy or necessity of antimicrobial agents in such products, and a growing number of studies suggest increasing acquired bacterial resistance to them. Studies also suggest that acquired resistance to the antimicrobial agents used in consumer products may predispose bacteria to resistance against therapeutic antibiotics, but further research is needed. Considering available data and the critical nature of the antibiotic-resistance problem, it is prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.

Conclusions  The use of common antimicrobials for which acquired bacterial resistance has been demonstrated should be discontinued in consumer products unless data emerge to conclusively show that such resistance has no effect on public health and that such products are effective at preventing infection. Ultimately, antibiotic resistance must be controlled through judicious use of antibiotics by health care professionals and the public.

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