Monday, November 4, 2013

Ingredient Detective - Triclosan

Ingredient Detective Triclosan on
These days it seems live EVERYTHING is "antibacterial". According to a CBS news article approximately 75% of liquid soaps on the market claim to be antibacterial on the label. What makes something antibacterial? Well for the most part it is either a high concentration of alcohol or adding in a chemical called TRICLOSAN. But are we cleaner now than ever before? Maybe not.

In a recent Discovery Health article, they explain, "The antibacterial components of soaps (usually triclosan or, less commonly, triclocarbon) need to be left on a surface for about two minutes in order to work. Most people are not this patient, and end up washing off the soap before the antibacterial ingredients can do their job." That's an awfully long time to have soap on your hands. Especially when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says "Triclosan-containing products don't provide any disease protection beyond what you get from washing with soap and water." And when you wash with soap and water you only need to do so for about 20 seconds. That's about the same amount of time it would take you to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

My goal today is not to scare you off products that use triclosan, but to educate you a little bit about the chemical and maybe give you some "food for thought" about having it in products you use on a regular basis. This should not be seen as a fear mongering article. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I personally have stopped using products with triclosan in them. I have phased triclosan out of my home as well as I can because I personally am concerned about the safety of this chemical. In addition I am concerned about the ongoing antibiotic resistant strains of diseases like MRSA and Strep.  I personally believe that antibiotic abuse combined with incomplete dosage of antibiotics and all the "anti-bacterial" products (triclosan) we use have contributed to the ongoing antibiotic resistance in this world.

In the 1990's triclosan started to make its way into hundreds of consumer goods claiming antibacterial properties. Everything from soap, to toothpaste, to lunchboxes (YES! Lunchboxes) started to contain triclosan. The public wanted to believe that antibacterial ingredients provided protection against germs. They do, but not all germs are bacteria based. Triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals do not protect against viruses like the common cold or flu. That's right. Colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Triclosan will do nothing to help kill the cold virus. HOWEVER one can protect themselves against spreading a virus like the cold by regular hand washing...with soap containing triclosan or NOT containing triclosan. But even more significant is that the University of Michigan and other universities compiled data from 30 studies looking at the use of antibacterial soaps. The results showed soaps with triclosan were no more effective at preventing illness or reducing bacteria on the hands than plain soap.

So why the concern about triclosan? Recent animal studies of triclosan have led scientists to worry that it could cause hormone-related problems in humans including an increase the risk of infertility and early puberty. The Endocrine Society, a group of doctors and scientists who specialize in the hormone system, flagged triclosan four years ago as an ingredient that alters levels of thyroid hormones and reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen. However trade associations for the soap and detergent industry claim that they have provided the FDA with data that triclosan is safe and that claims of triclosan's damaging effects are exaggerated and that the animal studies cannot be directly applied to human. They do have a point about the animal studies. While there have been successful laboratory studies showing that antibiotic resistant strains of E.Coli and other bacterial can grow in cultures with a high level of triclosan, there are very few studies that have tracked the antibiotic resistance claim made by several groups against the use of triclosan, in the real world.

In regards to the safety of triclosan, the FDA states that:
"Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.
Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. However, data showing effects in animals don’t always predict effects in humans. Other studies in bacteria have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
In light of these studies, FDA is engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient. FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time."
But we all know that the FDA moves at a glacial pace and may or may not be influenced by lobbyists that have a stake in what the FDA says about particular chemicals, so let's not hold our breath on that ongoing review.

The Mayo Clinic states that when using a product containing triclosan, there is a possibility you can absorb a small amount through your skin or mouth. They also said "A 2008 study, which was designed to assess exposure to triclosan in a representative sample of U.S. children and adults, found triclosan in the urine of nearly 75 percent of those tested." YIKES! But what about all the triclosan washed down the drain?

The EPA says that triclosan is immobile in soil and in water triclosan attaches to the surface of suspended solids and sediments. It may bioaccumulate (build up) which poses a concern for life in the water like organisms, plants, fish, etc. There are published studies on triclosan in waste water treatment plants, and it has been found "aerobic biodegradation is one of the major and most efficient biodegradation pathways." The EPA says that triclosan was found in approximately 36 U.S. streams where wastewater from treatment plants appears to contribute to the occurrence of triclosan in open water. And the risk assessment from that study concluded that the levels of concern were not exceeded for fish but were exceeded for aquatic plants. The EPA considers the probability of triclosan being released into household wastewater to be low. Additionally any aquatic risks of triclosan infected waters mostly originate from consumer uses of triclosan-treated plastic and textile items. Which means "the antimicrobial uses of triclosan (e.g., triclosan-treated plastic and textile items in households) are unlikely to contribute significant quantities of triclosan into household wastewater and eventually in surface water.

So with all this data and information what should you do about triclosan in your beauty and personal care products? That's up to you. I have nixed it from any product Darthypie uses, and I try to avoid using at all, but sometimes it can't be avoided. I personally believe that triclosan can have an impact on our endocrine system, and I want to avoid anything that may interfere with that
What say you? Is the fear over triclosan all bunk or believable?


  1. This is great information. I have to admit, being the hygiene freak that I am I crack when products are anti-bacterial. I never really gave any thought to what actually MAKES something anti-bacterial and what that exactly means though.

  2. I agree with you on this issue. It is really hard to find liquid hand soap with out the anti-bacteria ingredients. Crazy! Maybe as people become more aware there will be more to choose from on the market. As always, Thank you for an interesting read.

  3. Thank-you. I never used antibacterial products ever because of my concern regarding antibiotic resistance. I also knew that they needed several minutes to work (thank-you pharmacology degree) so were no better than soap. However, I never thought about the environmental cost!

    One additional fun fact: they can wreak havoc on a septic system. If you are visiting someone rural and have anti-bacterial/septic anything, please don't let it get down the drain.

  4. This is a great issue to raise given how ubiquitous triclosan has become in the past couple of decades.

    It is worth noting that the reason that triclosan may encourage antibiotic resistance is that it is selective in its anti-biotic action, which allows bacteria to adapt to avoid being 'targeted'. Sanitizers (isopropyl, bleach, etc.), on the other hand, aren't selective and therefore give bacteria less opportunity to adapt. Therefore, even when it is really necessary to eliminate bacteria from one's hands, it is better to select a hand sanitizer rather than an antibacterial soap.

  5. great article. very informative. i hope see more of these in the future!

  6. great post elvira, thanks for taking the time to do such a well-researched article. i did not know most of these information previously, as i don't particularly purchase anti bacterial anything.


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