Triclosan is an anti-microbial chemical that is found in a number of soaps, detergents, deodorants, and even toothpaste. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics it was originally developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals, but in recent years it has been added to consumer products in order to kill bacteria and fungus and prevent odors.
However, Triclosan is known to disrupt thyroid function and reproductive hormones. It bioaccumulates which means that it becomes more concentrated in the fatty tissues of humans and other animals.
As a result, this chemical has been detected in human breast milk, and in blood samples. A 2007 study detected triclosan in the urine of 75% of 2,517 Americans (Calafat 2007) and surprisingly higher levels of triclosan were typically found in higher income participants.
Putting Triclosan’s toxicity aside, it is also being considered that habitual use of anti-microbial agents in personal care products is related to bacteria mutation and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The American Medical Association (AMA) notes that “s]tudies 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” (Tan 2002).
The Anti-bacterial product boom has been marketed effectively, largely because consumers felt they were getting that extra protection from these products. While not coming out and banning Triclsoan, the AMA and the FDA Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee express a strong concern about lack of efficacy of triclosan in body care products such as hand lotions and soaps and find it no better than plain soap and water.
What to do?
- The EWG has a good Triclosan Guide that you can print for use at home.
- Avoid products that contain Triclosan and Triclocarban (found in bar soap)
- Avoid other “Anti-bacterial” products
- Washing hands and surfaces with warm water and plain soap will suffice