Triclosan: The Antibiotic Found in Soap & Why It’s Being Banned

On January 1, 2017, Minnesota became the first state to effectively ban soaps containing Triclosan. In September, 2017, it will be banned by the FDA. But what is Triclosan, and why the sudden action surrounding it?

Triclosan is an antibiotic chemical that is now seen as a “contaminant of emerging concern” (CEC). It is thought to lead to bacterial resistance, disrupt sex and thyroid hormones, and even harm the environment.

Triclosan is used in soap products to make them antibacterial. Patented in 1964, Triclosan has been on the market since 1969. Since the 1970s it has been used in hospitals as an antimicrobial scrub and has found its way into pump soap, shampoo, bar soap and body wash. Its popularity has been driven by consumers who fear illness and feel that they must kill germs. By 2000, 75% of hand soaps contained Triclosan; by 2015, over 2,000 consumer products listed it as an ingredient.

Consumers, however, have overlooked some important facts: Triclosan must remain on the body for two minutes to be effective, and most germs are washed down the drain with regular soap and water. According to Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.”

Concerns about Triclosan

Questions have been raised about Triclosan levels found in blood and urine samples, and in human breast milk.
Laboratory testing on rats and fish has revealed that Triclosan has anti-estrogenic and anti-androgenic properties. A study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the University of California, Davis revealed that Triclosan, at the low doses found in consumer products, it has weakened cardiac and skeletal muscles in mice and fish. In 2015, an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health noted higher incidences of allergies and altered thyroid function and tumor development related to Triclosan.

Outside of the human body, Triclosan may be an environmental concern. Once washed down the drain, Triclosan is thought to build up in wastewater and then return to drinking water, only to be washed down and built-up again in a cycle. Research at the University of Minnesota revealed that Triclosan, when exposed to UV light, breaks down into dioxins in lakes and rivers.

The future of Triclosan

In addition to state and federal bans, Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble are phasing out Triclosan as an ingredient in consumer soaps. It continues to remain in some toothpaste, where scientists maintain that it is a helpful ingredient. If Triclosan is a concern for you and your family, however, you should continue to check the ingredient list. Triclosan may still be found in many products still on shelves as it is phased out.

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