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Triclosan: Harmful to Your Health?

Jul 02, 2014

Health conscious consumers have long familiarized themselves with product labels in a bid to identify which ingredients might be harmful to their well-being. Even so, some ingredients are never included on those labels, particularly if those amounts are relatively small. That means you may be unwittingly using products that can harm your health, perhaps to the point of causing serious illness, including cancer.

Triclosan and Chloroform

One very common ingredient that has received a lot of scrutiny in recent years is triclosan, a chemical found in many personal care products such as deodorants, toothpastes, and soaps. Indeed, in 2005, researchers at Virginia Tech found that when soaps and toothpaste containing triclosan interacted with chlorine in tap water, chloroform was produced. Chloroform is a colorless, sweet-smelling chemical that has been known to cause liver and kidney problems, and contribute to cancer.

Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent, prized for its bacteria-fighting ability. Besides its use in personal care products such as hand soaps, acne treatments, and cosmetics, it can also be found implantable medical devices, polymers, plastics, and textiles. When used directly on the skin, it has been proven to kill bacteria. However, what goes on the skin also seeps inside and is carried through the blood stream to other parts of the body.

Chlorinated water, commonly used in many municipalities, and combined with antimicrobal soap containing triclosan produce chloroform that may be absorbed through your skin or inhaled according to Virginia Tech researchers. And what isn’t inhaled or absorbed exits the home and ends up in the drain. The photochemical reaction of triclosan is susceptible for making dioxins where sunlight is present. Dioxins do not degrade and can seep into the soil and impact the food chain putting people at further risk of harm.

AMA Weighs In

Tech researchers are not the only ones to raise a warning about triclosan. As far back as the 1990s, the American Medical Association has urged further study of the chemical especially its ability to ward off bacteria. Indeed, just as there is increased resistance to therapeutic antibiotics, similar resistance to triclosan is possible.

Health Canada, an equivalent to the Federal Drug Administration has offered its own assessment of triclosan. In 2012, it concluded “…triclosan is not harmful to human health, but in significant amounts can cause harm to the environment.” In late 2013, the FDA announced that it would take a closer look at triclosan, following studies that it this and similar chemicals can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals as well as prompt the growth of drug-resistant bacteria what is known as a “superbug.”

FDA Orders a Study

The FDA may require manufacturers that use triclosan to prove that it works better than simply soap and water to kill germs. Those products that fail to meet this criteria could be removed from the market, relabeled or reformulated.

With so much controversy surrounding triclosan, the more health-conscious among us are not waiting for the FDA or anyone else to conclude that this is one ingredient that shouldn’t be found in any of the products we consume.

Likely, triclosan restrictions will be announced several years out, but no one can afford to wait for that to happen. So, in the meantime, consumers will be reading labels, trying healthful products, eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. It is the personal responsibility that we can each have to use products that are safe while campaigning to have suspect products reviewed and if necessary reformulated or take off of the market.


Virginia Tech News: Potential consequences of antibacterial product use need reassessment —

American Medical Association: Use of Antimicrobials in Consumer Products (CSA Rep. 2, A-00) —

Health Canada: Canada Concludes Preliminary Assessment of Triclosan —

AP: FDA: Anti-Bacterial Soaps May Not Curb Bacteria —

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