The US Food and Drug Administration has banned some over-the-counter antibacterial hand and body wash products, saying they are no more effective than soap and water and could cause long-term harm.
The move affects 2100 products, or roughly 40 percent of the over-the-counter antibacterial soap market.
The ruling does not affect alcohol-based hand sanitisers or wipes, or antibacterial products used in hospitals and clinics.
The agency said it is banning products that contain any one of 19 ingredients that have not been proven safe.
The agency issued a proposed rule in 2013 after some data suggested that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products - for example, triclosan used in liquid soaps and triclocarban in bar soaps - could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects
The FDA had proposed banning the ingredients unless companies could prove they were safe and effective, but was unsatisfied with the data. The American Cleaning Institute insists the products are effective, and said manufacturers were conducting research to fill data gaps identified by the FDA.
"Clearly this is an industry that needed a good, swift kick in the triclosan. It took far too long," said Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental research organization.
Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble Co and Colgate-Palmolive Co have said they have either reformulated or are reformulating their products to delete the most common of the 19 ingredients, including triclosan and triclocarban.
Thomas DiPiazza, a spokesman for Colgate-Palmolive, said none of the company's products in the continental United States were affected, although a "small quantity of our bar soap in Puerto Rico, where FDA rules also apply, is being reformulated."
Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Tressi Rose said it will replace "a few" products well in advance of the FDA's deadline for removing or reformulating the products a year from now.
The regulator also deferred by a year a ruling on three additional ingredients used in consumer wash products - benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) - to allow for the submission of new safety and effectiveness data for those ingredients. Consumer antibacterial washes containing those specific ingredients may be sold during this time, the FDA said.
The health agency said washing with plain soap and running water "remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others."
"If soap and water are not available and a consumer uses hand sanitiser instead, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that it be an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol."
- Reuters / RNZ