Triclosan and triclocarban are chemicals which have enjoyed huge popularity since their introduction in the 1970s. Their effectiveness as antibacterials and antifungals has led to many hygiene products aimed at a populace increasingly afraid of germs. From mouthwash, body wash, and hand soap, to antibacterial escalator handrails and bandages, triclosan and triclocarban have more than met the demand. They are now considered a high volume chemical presence in everyday life.
Problems with triclosan and triclocarban
Of course, you don’t get something for nothing. Since their introduction, there have been suspicions about the side effects of triclosan and triclocarban. Most of these have been confirmed. By 1978, the FDA had already initiated a ban on the chemicals: they were not proving to prevent disease better than regular soap and water. However, they were proving to linger in the environment via waste water and sludge. Unfortunately, the FDA was negligent in enforcement, and use of triclosan and triclocarban increased as it allowed companies to market “antibacterial” products to a consumer base clamoring for a sense of safety.
In the 34 years since the ban was initiated, the news has gotten steadily worse. Both chemicals have proven to be endocrine disruptors that empower the expression of hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, and thyroid hormone. They also affect sex hormones in animals. Since these are naturally in an enforced balance in the body, any long term imbalance can lead to a myriad of health problems. In the environment, triclocarban takes more than ten years to break down. Triclosan breaks down very quickly — into dioxins, the notorious carcinogens. While both chemicals are usually processed and eliminated by the healthy human body, those with health problems do so less effectively. Still, the Center for Disease Control issued a report in 2010 indicating that the amount of triclosan in Americans had increased an average of 40% between 2004 and 2006.
Recent News about Triclosan
The most recent study on triclosan was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Colorado reported on evidence that triclosan exposure is connected to muscle impairment in humans and mice, as well as causing fish to swim more slowly. Their concern is that this effect could potentially contribute to heart disease and heart failure. Mice experienced an 18% drop in skeletal muscle strength and a 25% reduction in heart function within an hour of exposure. Since most humans eliminate triclosan fairly quickly, the effect is probably negligible. However, those already suffering from heart disease may experience an unacceptable compromise of heart function through exposure. Those with other conditions affecting the elimination of the chemical may experience longer periods of exposure and an increased build up in the blood stream.
The FDA requires manufacturers to indicate the use of triclocarban and triclosan (also called Microban®) in their products. For most, it is listed as the active ingredient in a product marketed as “antibacterial.” Congress is now pursuing enforcement against these chemicals in consumer products, which should spur the FDA to action. Some companies have already announced plans to eliminate chemicals like triclocarban and triclosan from their products. Johnson & Johnson has announced its intent to eliminate all such chemicals from its line by 2015. Other companies are remaining silent while working on replacements for chemicals facing a ban, so as not to cause a “premature” effect on sales.
Avoiding triclosan and triclocarban
The best practice would currently be to avoid products with triclosan or triclocarban. They are usually easy to spot on packaging. Soap and water has proven to be just as effective in terms of everyday personal hygiene. The problem is that these antibacterial products have become so popular that many will find it difficult to give them up. Some products have taken to labeling their safer soaps using terms such as “Wash away the bacteria!” Such marketing might help some make the wise transition.
This is bad stuff, people. The following is an incomplete list of products which contain triclosan (Microban® or Irgasab®) or triclocarban. I am confirming these by sight while shopping, so I’m not depending on rumors or second hand information. Still, please remember that companies may change their formulas at any time. I will try to keep this list up-to-date. Be sure to check labels for yourself. If it says “antibacterial,” “antifungal,” or “antimicrobial,” read the label! And if you find a product that should be on this list, or one that should come off the list, let me know so I can check it out. Thanks!
Products containing triclosan, triclocarban, and brand name forms
- Dental Care
- Colgate Total®
- Breeze™ Daily Mouthwash
- Reach® Antibacterial Toothbrush
- First Aid
- Solarcaine® First Aid Medicated Spray
- Nexcare™ First Aid, Skin Crack Care
- Farberware® Microban Cutting Boards
- Rival® Seal-A-Meal® Vacuum Food Sealer
- Skin and Hair Care
- Murad Acne Complex® Kit
- Scunci Microban Comb
- Paul Mitchell Detangler Comb
- Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Moisturizing Lotions
- Dial® Liquid handsoap and bodywash
- Dial® Antibacterial Bar Soap (any kind)
- Tea Tree Therapy™ Liquid Soap
- Clearasil® Daily Face Wash
- Dermalogica® Skin Purifying Wipes
- Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser
- DermaKleen™ Antibacterial Lotion Soap
- CVS Antibacterial Soap
- Shoprite Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
- Ultra Concentrated Dawn Antibacterial Dishsoap
- Kimcare Antibacterial Clear Soap
- Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Hand Soaps, Gels and Foaming Sanitizers
- Antibacterial agent Triclosan shown to hinder muscle movement in mice, fish (cbsnews.com)
- Antibacterial agent weakens muscles in lab animals (blogs.courier-journal.com)
- Soap Chemical Linked to Impaired Muscle Function (foxnews.com)
- More bad news about triclosan (mnn.com)
- Is hand soap dangerous to you? (bio230fall2010.wordpress.com)
- Triclosan Dangers and Antibacterial Soap: Chemical Weakens Heart and Body in 1 Hour (naturalsociety.com)
- Freaky Clean: Chemical in Antibacterial Soap Weakens Muscle Function (healthland.time.com)
- Triclosan: What You Need to Know (naturalaspossiblemom.com)
- Plain soap as effective as antibacterial but without the risk – Triclosan no more effective a soap (engineeringevil.com)
- Hand sanitisers are polluting world’s waters, study reveals (scotsman.com)