I’m almost out of liquid hand soap at home. Although I could easily pick it up at the drugstore half a block away, I’m going to wait and get it at a health food store tomorrow. I buy large refill bottles and my drugstore only carries antibacterial soap in that size, which contains a chemical called triclosan.
Besides being found in antibacterial soap, triclosan is in some brands of mouthwash, toothpaste (Colgate Total), deodorant and skin care products as well as facial tissues, yoga mats, cutting boards, bed linens, towels and many other consumer products.
The FDA is reviewing the evidence on triclosan’s safety in consumer products, in light of recent animal studies, and will release its results in winter 2012. In the meantime, here is a quick summary of why I am avoiding triclosan now and suggest you do to:
1. It has linked to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria and “superbugs”.
Triclosan was originally developed in 1972 as a surgical scrub for hospitals, not for use in consumer products. Widespread use of triclosan in consumer products can create bacterial resistance to triclosan, and may also promote resistance to other antimicrobial products and antibiotics.
The American Medical Association has said that “considering the available data and the critical nature of the antibiotic resistance problem, it may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.” The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on household antibacterial products.
2. There is no benefit to having it in household soap.
Studies suggest that triclosan is no more effective than regular soap at killing bacteria on the hands or preventing symptoms of infectious illnesses. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers (with at least 60% alcohol) in conjunction with washing with soap and water are more effective at killing bacteria and viruses.
3. The health effects of our current level of exposure is unknown.
Recent animal studies show that triclosan alters hormone regulation, including thyroid hormone and estrogen, affects fetal growth and development, and weakens the immune system.
Although only a small amount of triclosan is found in hand soap, mouthwash, cosmetics, and other products, the problem is that it is used in so many common household products as well as being found in drinking water and passing through skin in small amounts, and the effects of the cumulative exposure is unknown. Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected triclosan in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested (2,517 people age six and up).
4. Triclosan builds up in our environment.
Antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan are often washed down the drain. Although some triclosan is broken down during sewage treatment, some of it is not and ends up in our lakes, rivers, and streams (not to mention our tap water), where it has a toxic effect on fish and other aquatic life. Triclosan can also react with other chemicals in water to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate in our environment and are toxic.
Tips for Avoiding Triclosan
1. Check all labels, especially of soap, gels, toothpaste, cosmetics and skin care products, deodorant, and other personal care items. Avoid anything containing triclosan or its chemical cousin triclocarban.
2. If a product is labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” or marketed as “fights germs”, “odor-fighting”, “keeps food fresher” or “protects against mildew or mold”, find out why it’s marketed that way. Triclosan is also used on cutting boards, cleaning supplies, towels, yoga mats, shoes, bedding, and many other consumer products. When checking labels, other pseudonyms for triclosan are Microban, Biofresh, Irgasan DP-300, Lexol 300, Ster-Zac, or Cloxifenolum. If you see it, don’t buy the product.
4. Use soap and water to clean hands. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use fragrance-free alcohol-based hand santizers (look for at least 60% alcohol).
5. Find out some of the personal care products that contain triclosan on the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep Database. Find triclosan-free products using the Skin Deep Database Advanced Search.
6. Drink filtered water.
7. Contact companies that use triclosan in their products and let them know that won’t use their products until they remove it and other questionable chemicals. Many companies are no longer using it or are phasing it out of their products due to consumer demand.
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