What’s So Bad About…Triclosan

What’s So Bad About…Triclosan

Let me start by saying that I really do try to do my part for the earth and its future inhabitants. I turn the water off while I brush my teeth because, someday, my great grandchildren will need water. I don’t idle my car even when it’s -40 degrees because, someday, my great great grandchildren will need oxygen. However, when it comes to the debate about antibacterial soap and the threat of antibiotic resistant super bugs, I must admit, I feel like my great great grandchildren should suck it up. To paraphrase a super cheesy TV commercial, “I’m not just the president of the germaphobe club, I’m also a member.” When my sister recently told me that my favourite hand soap is basically a pretty, little bottle of cancer, I decided to check it out-you know, for the great greats.

 The ingredient in question is triclosan. Although my sister may have been slightly alarmist in her diagnosis (which I will have to speak to her about because it’s MY domain to be the chicken little of the family!), she was right about one thing– the jury is decidedly out on triclosan. Antibacterial soaps are one of the main offenders for using the additive but not the only ones.

According to the CDC, “Triclosan is a chemical with antibacterial properties. For more than 30 years, it has been used in consumer products such as detergents, soaps, skin cleansers, deodorants, lotions, creams, toothpastes, and dishwashing liquids. Triclosan can also be added to other materials, such as textiles, to make them resistant to bacterial growth.” While a 30-year track record without any recorded reactions is a good thing, the CDC notes the long-term effects on human health of ingesting triclosan are unknown. “Okay so fantastic,” I’m thinking. Although I have occasionally been tempted to dress a salad with the lemon zinger hand soap, I do not actually eat the stuff so whew, right? Nope. In a study funded by the CDC, 75% of participants aged 6 and up had detectible amounts of triclosan in their urine. It absorbs through the skin and, in fact, when you check out the list of products it is in, you probably are eating the stuff, albeit in very small amounts. These findings don’t prove triclosan is dangerous but they do raise some questions.

It is why, as recently as April of last year, the FDA put out a statement “in light of recent animal studies showing that triclosan alters hormone regulation and other studies that have raise the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics, the FDA is engaged in ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient,”  While the FDA is quick to point out that “studies showing effects in animals don’t always predict effects in humans,” they go on to state that while they “do not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of these products now, the FDA is engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient.”

The additive does work and that’s the conundrum for some people. When you have a young child who jams anything and everything in their mouth and you’re not able to wash their hands, a little antibacterial hand wipe starts looking appealing. However, triclosan in most toothpaste has been proven to be effective against gingivitis. Okay the gingivitis versus cancer debate is hardly a barn burner, and the issue is really cumulative effect. Those animal studies showing damage to the endocrine system which regulates growth and development raise a definite red flag when it comes to children.

So until the FDA releases its new recommendations in the winter of 2012, it might be worth limiting this ingredient, especially in products we actually ingest. The good news is  triclosan is most often found in antibacterial body wash, soap and toothpaste, all of which are classified by the FDA as “drugs” (weird, right?) and therefore must be fully labelled so if it’s in there, you’ll see it listed in the ingredients. And it must be divulged in cosmetic ingredient lists too.

Food for thought: the American Medical Association recommends against using antibacterial products in the home due to the antibiotic resistance issue. And if you’re looking beyond self interest, the Environment Working Group warns that triclosan, like all chemical cleansers and household products eventually ends up in rivers and lakes where it has been found to be toxic to aquatic life. And of course, there are the great great grandchildren to consider. They better appreciate what I do for them and at least send a card for my birthday!

 For a list of triclosan-free products, check out www.ewg.org/triclosanguide

And, if you really want to go for it, try making your own triclosan-free soap at the aptly names www.treehugger.com or lye-free soap at www.cranberrylane.com

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