Soap is one of the oldest and most important cosmetic and personal care products. Soap is a product used in conjunction with water for washing and cleaning. It usually comes in a solid molded form (bar soap) but may also come in the form of liquids dispersed from dispensers. Soaps typically contain surfactants that, when applied to a soiled surface in combination with water wet the dirt and effectively holds particles in suspension so it can be rinsed off with clean water. Soaps that are used for cleansing the body are regulated by FDA as cosmetics and are subject to the requirements of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). However, for products that are “soap” in the traditional and historical sense, congress decided that they should be exempt from the FDCA. This means that they can only be like the soaps that were made in colonial times from potash and animal fat and cannot make any claims other than cleaning. Most soaps today are much more sophisticated in that they can also serve as a deodorant bar or can cleanse and moisturize. These soaps are not exempt from the FDCA and FDA oversight.
Link to FDA discussion about Soap.
Household soaps that are used in cleaning the home and are not used on the body are not regulated by the FDA. However, soaps that are intended to sanitize food contact surfaces, such as kitchen counters and sinks and cooking utensils, are regulated by FDA and must be safe and effective for this purpose.
More information about household soaps.
Soaps that contain antimicrobial ingredients intended to kill germs are regulated by FDA as Over-The-Counter drugs. As drugs, they must be shown to be safe and effective for the intended use. A related topic includes Antimicrobials.
Find out more about FDA regulation of Over-The Counter drug products.