Triclosan: The Soap Ingredient You Should Never Use -- But 75% of Households Do
Triclosan, a high production volume ingredient used as a bactericide in personal care products such as toothpaste, deodorant, and antibacterial soap, has been linked to heart disease and heart failure in a new study.
Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that "Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans."1
What this means is that until action is taken to get this common additive out of your toiletries, you could be applying a chemical with proven toxicity to your body multiple times a day …
Triclosan Interferes With Muscle Function
Tricolsan impairs muscle function and skeletal muscle contractility, researchers report in a new study done at the University of California Davis. Although the study was done in mice, researchers said the effects of the chemical on cardiac function were "really dramatic."
After mice were exposed to one dose of triclosan, heart muscle function was reduced by 25 percent, and grip strength was reduced by 18 percent. Fish were also exposed to triclosan – about the equivalent dose as would be accumulated in a week in the wild – and this led to poorer swimming performance. Researchers also exposed individual human muscle cells (from heart and skeletal muscles) to a triclosan dose similar to everyday-life exposure, and this, too, disrupted muscle function and caused both heart and skeletal muscles to fail.
The study's lead author noted:2
"Triclosan is found in virtually everyone's home and is pervasive in the environment. These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health."
Triclosan May Also Alter Hormone Regulation
This ubiquitous chemical is a chlorinated aromatic compound and is used to help reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It's commonly added to many antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes and certain cosmetics, as well as furniture, kitchenware, clothing and toys.
It would be wise to seriously question purchasing ANY product that contains triclosan as an ingredient on the label, not only because of the new muscle function finding discussed above, but also because of its potential impact on hormones.
A Toxicological Sciences study found that triclosan affected estrogen-mediated responses, and many chemicals that imitate estrogen are known to increase breast cancer risk.3 Triclosan also suppressed thyroid hormone in rats, and this is only one study in an accumulating body of research showing this chemical to be a potent endocrine disrupter.
Past research has also shown:
- Exposure to triclosan disrupts thyroid hormone-associated gene expression in frogs, even at low levels (triclosan exposure at 0.15 parts per billion was enough to disrupt a hormone-signaling system in frogs)4
- Triclosan decreases circulating concentrations of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) in rats5
Even the FDA states that "animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation" and that "other studies in bacteria have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics."6 Although they still maintain that triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans, they are conducting a review of the chemical, the results of which they expect to release to the public in the winter of 2012.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates triclosan as a pesticide, has also announced it will undertake a comprehensive review of triclosan beginning in 2013, and notes they will "pay close attention to the ongoing endocrine research and will amend the regulatory decision if the science supports such a change." Unfortunately, what this means for you for now is that essentially nothing is being done right now to get this chemical out of your hand soap, body wash and toothpaste.
Triclosan Was First Registered as a Pesticide
If you need more indication that triclosan is probably not the best ingredient to be brushing your teeth with or rubbing onto your underarms, consider that it was first registered with the EPA in 1969 … as a pesticide.
Today it is still registered as a pesticide, although aside from this and its uses in personal care products, it's also widely used for industrial uses, for instance it is incorporated in conveyor belts, fire hoses, dye bath vats, or ice-making equipment as an antimicrobial pesticide, as well as added to adhesives, fabrics, vinyl, plastics (toys, toothbrushes), polyethylene, polyurethane, polypropylene, floor wax emulsions, textiles (footwear, clothing), caulking compounds, sealants, rubber, carpeting, and a wide variety of other products.7
Triclosan is Already Found in 75% of Americans
As it stands, this chemical has already been detected in the urine of three-quarters of the U.S. population,8 which means urgent action is clearly needed. Last year, House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter and two colleagues called on the FDA to enact a ban on triclosan, noting that "triclosan is clearly a threat to our health" and citing the following reasons for the proposed ban:9
- "The presence of triclosan in the human body and its impact on our 'body burden'
- Bacterial resistance to antibiotic medications and antibacterial cleaners
- The potential for endocrine disruption as a result of triclosan bioaccumulation in the body
- Wastewater contamination
- The threat of destroying ecological balance
- The fact that triclosan is no more effective than soap and water"
This last point is an important one, as the "benefit" of adding an antimicrobial product like triclosan to your hand soap is that it should kill off more germs, and theoretically keep you healthier. On the contrary, there is little or no evidence that these triclosan-containing antibacterial products outperform the good-old-fashioned techniques like washing with soap and water. There is, however, evidence that plain soap is more effective than its antibacterial counterparts. Researchers noted:10
"The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising."
It's Easy to Opt Out of Triclosan-Containing Products
The decision to stop using products that contain triclosan is an easy way to positively impact your and your family's health. There is simply no reason to ever purchase any product with triclosan in it. Triclosan is clearly listed on product ingredient labels, so you can easily check to see if it's there before deciding on a purchase. Remember, this chemical is not only in soaps but also body washes, toothpaste, shampoo, and 140+ other personal care and home products. Unfortunately, triclosan is now also contaminating rivers, streams and sewage sludge that is applied to agricultural fields, so there is a chance you're getting exposed from environmental sources as well.11
Aside from reading labels, if a product claims to be "antibacterial," there's a good chance it contains triclosan, so this can be used as a warning label of sorts if you're looking to avoid this chemical.