What is it?
Triclosan, a synthetic antibacterial agent and preservative, is found in thousands of consumer products, including
- Soaps and cleansers
- Acne creams
- Some brands of toothpaste and mouthwash
- Laundry detergent
- Facial tissues
- Antiseptics for cuts and scrapes
Triclosan is also used as a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungal organisms, mildew and odors in other household products advertised as antibacterial:
- Garbage bags
- Linens and mattresses
- Toilet fixtures
- Clothing, furniture fabric, and paints.
Among the general public, regular exposure occurs when using the above products in addition to standard antibacterial hand sanitizer. A recent study found that health care workers in particular are at increased risk as they use hand sanitizer regularly in their work environment. Although it is not typically “consumed”, triclosan passes through the skin barrier and is absorbed. Elevated levels of triclosan can be found in the urine of individuals who use hand sanitizer daily instead of regular soap and water.
Why is it dangerous?
There is an increasing body of research indicating that triclosan can interfere with the action of hormones, potentially causing developmental problems in fetuses and newborns, among other potential health concerns.
Since this chemical is an endocrine disruptor, it can mimic hormones or block their normal function. This is of particular concern to women of reproductive age, pregnant women and children. A 2007 study found triclosan in the breast milk of 97% of participants living in Texas.
In a preliminary study by the University of Michigan, researchers found that in adolescents under 18 years, higher urinary triclosan levels were associated with having more reported environmental allergies.
Triclosan is also toxic to our environment. Environment Canada and the European Union have categorized triclosan as potentially toxic to aquatic organisms. It persists and builds up in the environment because it does not easily degrade.
There are worries that the widespread use of antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, may contribute to antibiotic resistance. Hence, the Canadian Medical Association has recommended that the sale of antibacterial consumer products be banned.
What can you do to avoid it?
- Use a glycerine-based soap and water to wash hands instead of hand sanitizer. If absolutely necessary, there are natural hand sanitizers available that use thyme or oregano oil as the antibacterial agent.
- Keep an eye out for products that are labeled “antibacterial” and try to avoid purchasing them for your home or office.
- Read the labels and consider a switch in personal care products to more natural alternatives.
o Deodorants include Dr Mist, the rock crystal and Suki brand deodorants, among others.
o Triclosan is listed under “active ingredients” in toothpaste and mouthwash. You may also choose to avoid those that list “fights gingivitis”. Most “natural” toothpastes are triclosan-free (e.g. Tom’s of Maine)
For more information, read the Environmental Working Group’s summary of Triclosan: