Thought You’d Like to Know about Triclosan

Since we’re discussing spring cleaning this week, this is the perfect time to address antibacterial products – especially products that contain triclosan.

Thought You'd Like to KnowTriclosan, an ingredient used to stop the spread of bacteria, initially was used as a surgical scrub and was registered as a pesticide in 1969. Over the past forty years, its use has spread into countless products like dishwashing soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, body wash, deodorant, shaving gel, children’s toys, kitchenware like cutting boards, socks, shoes, mouse pads and computer keyboards,  – and 75 percent of all liquid hand soaps. (If you’re wondering if your own products contain triclosan, take a peek at the lists of ingredients.)

While triclosan does prevent bacteria, fungi, and mildew from spreading, it doesn’t protect against viruses. That means it’s just as effective to use plain old soap and water when trying to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses – and actually, a lot healthier.

The dangers of triclosan
Recently triclosan has been under fire – in February, a Congressional Food and Water Watch Issue Briefing was held about the ingredient. And, the U.S Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the ingredient once again to assess health and environmental risks. (Because it’s used in so many different products, triclosan is regulated by the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.) Triclosan’s drawing criticism because of scientific studies showing it:

  • Disrupts the endocrine system in animals. According to the EPA, they’re investigating triclosan’s estrogen-related effects, as well as its effect on thyroid hormones.
  • May create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Once dumped in water, triclosan attaches to surfaces and has the potential to bioaccumulate and harm aquatic life.

It’s worth noting that triclosan’s banned in other countries, including several in the European Union.

How to protect yourself
Because of triclosan’s inclusion in so many products, avoid buying things labeled as “anti-bacterial” – and check the ingredient labels.

If you’re interested in announcing that you’re taking a stand against the ingredient, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is sponsoring a Pledge to go Triclosan-Free.

What about hand sanitizers?
Right about now you might be wondering about hand sanitizers. Stick to the alcohol-based products, and skip anything containing triclosan. Keep in mind that alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers kill bacteria on hands, but they don’t remove dirt or dust. Soap and water does.

When choosing a hand sanitizer, use a fragrance-free variety with a concentration of sixty to ninety-five percent alcohol in the form of ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or isopropanol. If the sanitizer includes less than sixty percent alcohol, it will only spread bacteria instead of killing it. Since hand sanitizers vary in ingredients, find a brand that meets the true anti-bacterial standard of alcohol content. As a note, hand sanitizers lose their effectiveness after two minutes, and should be reapplied as necessary.

FDA says studies on triclosan, used in sanitizers and soaps, raise concerns.” Lyndsey Layton. The Washington Post. April 8, 2010.
Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. April 8, 2010.
 “Triclosan Facts.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. March 2010.
“EWG’s Back-to-School Guide.” Environmental Working Group.
“Hand sanitizer only last for two minutes, not effective at killing germs long-term: research.” Rosemary Black. New York Daily News. Oct. 21, 2010.
Hand Sanitizers, Good or Bad?” Deborah Franklin. The New York Times. March 21, 2006.
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Hilary Kimes Bernstein is a Christ follower, wife, mama, and journalist. She writes about making healthy decisions that honor God and happen to help the environment at Accidentally Green. Short and sweet - like her writing - Hilary is the author of several healthy living eBooks.

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