Triclosan, a potentially dangerous chemical, may be lurking in many cosmetic products

A custodial engineer checks a liquid soap dispenser at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. A study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group revealed that triclosan is in more than 120 hand soaps.

The consumer labels trend for products is a great way to help people make smarter purchases, but many consumers may find themselves scratching their heads over the most common ingredients. Triclosan, for example, is used in lipstick, deodorant, facial cleanser, liquid hand soap, and toothpaste, among many other products. In fact, a study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group revealed that triclosan is in more than 120 hand soaps. But what is it? And why did the Food and Drug Administration recently announce a safety review of it?  Lauren Wyner has the story in this CAP repost of CAP’s Easy Being Green Series.

Triclosan was first developed as a surgical scrub in 1972. It’s a synthetic, broadly used antimicrobial agent that is most often used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces, and can be used to preserve a product against deterioration due to invasive microbes.

There are more than 700 home-use products that contain triclosan today, but there is no current data to prove any extra health benefits from its use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says that antibacterial soaps are not necessary for everyday use and washing hands with ordinary soap and warm water is effective enough to ward off bacteria and infections.

Triclosan””which is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the CDC””may also not be simply a harmless extra agent. A decade-old Nature article co-authored by Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, warned that the overuse of triclosan could create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria just as these strains are emerging worldwide.

Waterways, plants, animals, and humans are all absorbing triclosan, which was found in 36 U.S. streams based on Environmental Protection Agency’s monitoring data. In aquatic environments, triclosan attaches to the surface of suspended solids and sediments and may bioaccumulate or keep on accumulating in living organsims, posing a threat to our aquatic ecosystems. Both a 2006 study on the North American bullfrog and a 2009 study on male juvenile rats concluded that triclosan blocks the thyroid hormone’s metabolism in these animals because it chemically mimics the hormone and binds to the hormone receptor sites so that normal hormones cannot be utilized.

The American Medical Association has recommended triclosan not be used in the home based on the lack of data on it. According to the AMA, “despite their recent proliferation in consumer products, the use of antimicrobial agents such as triclosan in consumer products has not been studied extensively. No data exist to support their efficacy when used in such products or any need for them”¦it may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products”¦”

The FDA announced its review of triclosan after Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, sent letters to the FDA and the EPA earlier this year about the ingredient. Triclosan is regulated as an antimicrobial active ingredient by the EPA while the FDA oversees its use in consumer products along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The FDA said it shares Rep. Markey’s concern about the potential effects of triclosan and triclocarban as endocrine disruptors that can adversely affect hormone function.

The FDA has unsuccessfully been trying to establish rules for triclosan’s use for the last 38 years. The EPA, for its part, has concluded that the common low doses of triclosan found in our toothpaste and deodorant, for example, are harmless. They are, however, issuing a new comprehensive review that will be ready in 2013 focusing on endocrine research.

Triclosan itself has not conclusively been found to have any carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic effects in humans. But while it’s not clear how risky triclosan is, there are alternatives for consumers who don’t want to take any chances while the verdict’s still out. For a comprehensive list of triclosan-free products check out the Safe Cosmetics Data Base.

10 Responses to Triclosan, a potentially dangerous chemical, may be lurking in many cosmetic products

  1. prokaryote says:

    Good read to increase your health safty.

  2. Ubuntu says:

    A custodial engineer..? A cleaning lady


  3. Wonhyo says:

    This is interesting, but the relevance to climate change and policy is weak. Unless I’m missing the link, I’d prefer that CP stay on topic and let other news outlets report on triclosan. This is more of a health and safety issue than a climate issue.

    Other than that, great blog on climate change and policy! I’m looking forward to CP advocating even stronger climate actions, sooner!

  4. Leif says:

    The missing link in my view Wonhyo, is just more evidence on how Corporate America cares less about what happens to the American people and by extension Earth’s life support systems, than their bottom line. It has long been suspected that antimicrobial agents make stronger bugs and it makes intuitive sense to the evolutionists among us but with limited funding and resources there is only so much that citizen protection can do for us.

    Knowledge is power.

  5. Chris Winter says:

    Agreed, Leif, but I wonder what makes Triclosan worthy of mention by itself, as opposed to a general warning about poorly-studied synthetic substances that are building up in the environment — substances like atrazine, for example.

  6. crf says:

    Natural news is full of anti-science bullcrap.
    It claims Henry Waxman is terrorist because he wants to regulate supplements.
    It’s full of garbage about vaccine dangers.
    It credulously reports in make-believe “energy” Qi.

    So, prokaryote, it isn’t a “good” site.

  7. prokaryote says:

    There is a lot of content and a lot of “guest” post aswell. I found some articles quiet intresting and good. They report years ago about Triclosan.

  8. Aaron Lewis says:

    If we get past global warming, we still have to live here on Earth. It would be easier to live here, if Earth is not full of radioactive, toxic, and hazardous materials.

    If everyone here can stand up and recite the full life, fate, and transport cycle for all of the materials in their home, then perhaps JR should stick to CO2, CH4, NOx, halogenated hydrocarbons, and such. If there is anyone here that can not recite the full fate and transport cycles for most common materials, then JR should take on the roll of our freshman teachers, and prod us to pay attention, think, and learn.

    In this class, failure is not an option.

    Moreover, the subject is broader than any one person can be expert in. Thus, the huge value of guest posts.

  9. catman306 says:

    I like it when the EPA, NIOSHA, NIH, and the others do their job to protect us and our environment to the best of their ability rather than just pretending, i.e., going through the motions without any impact because that’s what the big corporations expect for their campaign money.