Long ago, I learned that “the only one who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” We buy the same products with the same ingredients for our homes out of habit.  Rather than adapt to new information about safety or effectiveness, we get in a rut. I feel that way when I am in a doctor’s office or a hospital bathroom and the familiar hand soap pump is on the sink. I can’t help myself when I turn the bottle around and check the label for ingredients which more times than not lists triclosan. What is so bad about triclosan and why is it in the news?

Why Should You Care?

Triclosan is added to hand soaps and other products like toothpaste, deodorants, eye shadows, and moisturizers due to its “antibacterial” action. Sounds good, right? Actually, the concern about triclosan is growing. For example, Target Corporation has a list of chemicals it is pressuring suppliers to remove from products sold at their stores and triclosan was recently added to the list. Wal-Mart has a similar list but it does not post the contents for the public.

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Do Products Contain Triclosan Have a Proven Health Benefit?

The answer is a resounding no. The marketing of hand-soap as having “anti-bacterial” properties because they contain triclosan is scientifically bogus. In 2004, scientists did the best kind of research study, a randomized, double-blind study, involving over 1,000 persons. The question studied was whether home products with antibacterial agents prevented disease better than standard products. What was observed?  There was no reduction of illness in families using products with antibacterial chemicals.  In 2007, researchers reviewed the medical literature up to that time and concluded that “soaps containing triclosan … were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms.”  Recently another investigation of triclosan in soap was published. When 20 bacterial strains were exposed to plain soap or soap with triclosan, there was no difference in the killing bacteria in situations that mimicked hand washing.

So if Triclosan Doesn’t Appear to be of Any Benefit, Is It Potentially Dangerous or Can We Just Ignore It?

In a position paper from the Environmental Working Group, shocking scientific statistics were shared. Triclosan can be measured in the bodies of 75 percent of those tested, is highest in 20-29-year-olds, and is found in nearly all adolescent girls tested. Apparently we don’t just wash and rinse this chemical off but it gets absorbed through our mouths and skin. Furthermore, triclosan interferes with multiple hormonal systems including thyroid, testosterone, and estrogenic pathways and is therefore called an endocrine disrupting chemical. The potential impact on children and those in reproductive years is very concerning. Triclosan has also been linked to allergy and asthma.

Triclosan and related chemicals also end up in water treatment plants and agricultural fields. It has been found in waterways that serve as sources of drinking water. Crops can also pick up this chemical exposing us to even higher concentrations of this endocrine disruptor.

Take Action

Just as Target Corporation has focused on banning home products containing triclosan, I call on you to investigate the products you have at home and at work. Check the label and actively seek out products that are free of antibacterial chemicals. The pressure on manufacturers by retailers like Target Corporation and Wal-Mart will undoubtedly lead to the phasing out of these additives with no proven health benefits. Vote with your wallet and make that happen sooner than later.

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