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by Dr. Irene Reyzis
Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient used in many soaps, cleansers, hand washes, deodorants and dental products. In recent years a lot of scientific data has emerged pointing to both negative health effects and environmental toxicity. Studies suggest triclosan may be linked to a variety of health issues, including hormone disruption, weakened muscle function, heart problems, cancer, liver toxicity, birth defects and developmental problems in children. The widespread use of triclosan also promotes drug-resistant strains of super bacteria.
Triclosan is not easily cleared by the body and tends to accumulate in the fat cells of humans and animals. In the majority of people triclosan can be detected in body fluids like blood, urine and breast milk. Triclosan also accumulates in the environment and is harmful to many types of aquatic life. It shows up in tap water and reacts with the chlorine present to form toxic byproducts such as chloroform.
There are a lot of legal issues surrounding the use of triclosan. One is its status as a “Category III” active ingredient in the FDA’s proposed set of rules for antibacterial personal care products. This means the FDA has not yet determined whether triclosan is actually safe and effective for killing bacteria or not. They need more scientific data in order to do so. A final rule on whether this chemical is acceptable for everyday use in personal care products is pending, as it has been for 17 years.
Triclosan continues to appear in many products because this is permitted while an active ingredient is in pending status. Companies can make the claim “antibacterial” when using this ingredient, although in reality it may not be an effective germ killer, or may be causing health and safety issues where the risks outweigh the benefits to be gained from using the ingredient.
In places like Minnesota action has already been taken against triclosan due to its questionable effects on human health and bacterial drug resistance. In 2014 the state passed a law banning triclosan-containing personal care products that will go into effect January 1st, 2017. The law says “In order to prevent the spread of infectious disease and avoidable infections and to promote best practices in sanitation, no person shall offer for retail sale in Minnesota any cleaning product that contains triclosan and is used by consumers for sanitizing or hand and body cleansing.”
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Yazdankhah SP, Scheie AA, Høiby EA, Lunestad BT, Heir E, Fotland TØ, Naterstad K, Kruse H. Triclosan and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria: an overview. Microb Drug Resist. 2006;12(2):83-90. PubMed PMID: 16922622.