2nds of Food for Thought: The evil villain Triclosan…

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This is part three of a three-part series on antibacterial soaps.
Part one: My Relationship with Soap
Part two: Food for Thought: Antibacterial Soap

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is the chemical added to anti-bacterial soaps (or triclocarbon for bar soaps) with the aim of killing bacteria. It is non-discriminatory in that it won’t only kill the bacteria you’re mad at, but also any good bacteria you have hanging around your house (or inside your body). It is a specialized killer, however, in that its effectiveness lies in coaxing bacteria not to reproduce.

How Does it Harm?

Because of the handful of bacteria that manage to survive their encounter with triclosan, it contributes to what is commonly known as “bacterial resistance“, which basically means that the more we fight bacteria, the more the bacteria who can survive reproduce and the stronger the bacteria pool becomes. The bacteria who are naturally selected to continue their gene pool will result in (more and more) overall resistance to triclosan, and possibly other antibiotics, especially those that work in the same way, creating the “super-bugs” no one wants to come home with after touching a shopping cart handle. Every time you wash your hands/dishes/etc with a soap containing triclosan, you’re sending unknown amounts of the chemical into our collective ecosystem, and bacteria becoming stronger against us, the human race.

Triclosan’s Other Transgressions

  • Is a probable hormone disruptor
  • Creates chloroform when mixed with chlorinated water. (Almost all city water is chlorinated, and washing your dishes is an ideal environment for you to inhale toxic chloroform:  hot water, chlorine, and antibacterial soap containing triclosan.)
  • Stays on hands up to 4 hours after washing – anyone want an appetizer that may damage your liver or disrupt thyroid function?
  • Is not completely removed by wastewater treatment processes, so it ends up in both our lakes and drinking water. As a result, it has been found in human breastmilk, and its toxicity to aquatic life puts our lake and stream ecosystems in grave danger.

Government agencies that have spoken out against triclosan:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) recommended no antibacterial soap for household use back in 2002!
  • FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is conducting research on the topic.
  • CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends plain soap and water for handwashing.
  • EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also recommends simple soap and “good old-fashioned scrubbing”.

With all those letters of the alphabet weighing in on the topic, why haven’t you heard about the AMA’s and CDC’s recommendations on ABC, CBS, or CNN? It’s not good marketing. Bath and Body Works would be out of business…

Conscious Stewards must Think About…

  • Effectiveness:  Triclosan must be left on a surface for 2 minutes in order to work properly. Who washes their hands that long? It’s killing bacteria everywhere but our hands instead.
  • Limitations:  Most diseases that we’re worried about catching are viral, anyway, and triclosan doesn’t touch viruses.
  • Side Effects:  Even the bacteria that we’re afraid of (E. coli is one example) are only getting stronger because of our overuse of triclosan.

Read my post on hand sanitizers here.

Some sources for further reading:

If you’re interested in more, this is the most comprehensive source, including recommendations to the EPA for banning triclosan:  Environmental Working Group (EWG) article on triclosan

Find safe products for personal health at EWG’s Skin Deep database.

Sources for this article:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/larson.htm
  2. http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/hand-hygiene-truths-myths-and-misinformation-10882.html
  3. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/06/17/anti-bacterial-soap.aspx

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18 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Carolyn says

    I found this very interesting, considering the craze for gel hand sanitizers. I am a nurse and work in a hospital in the inpatient setting and we are constantly hearing that plain old soap is it when it comes to stopping these super bugs. And they truly are SUPER. Part of me wants to believe that without some sort of exposure to germs, however minute, our bodies would never build up the immunity (or resistance) to fight anything.

  2. Sopor42 says

    These are some good posts… I’ve been an advocate of avoiding anti-bacterial stuff for a while, purely from a standpoint that if you don’t exercise your immune system… it’ll get weak! Of course I’ve been a bit hypocritical… I use antibacterial handsoap and body wash at home, gonna have to change that!

    But I was wondering, do you know anything about the effects of Chloroxylenol in “antiseptic” handsoap? It’s chlorine based I’m assuming… so is it just as bad as Triclosan environmentally?

  3. Sopor42 says

    Not only is it in soap here in the office… but I’d be willing to bet that it’s in soap in a lot of commercial, public, and industrial bathrooms! This is SoftSoap brand that comes in the bag-in-a-box that’s used in wall-dispensers, and it’s the orange-colored transparent stuff… which seems pretty prevalent.

  4. JulieVW says

    I’ve avoided anti-bacterial soaps for years. But last night I opened a tube of toothpaste last night, and just happened to glance at the active ingredient list on the box. . . . There is triclosan in my toothpaste – YIKES!!!! Time to get something new.

  5. says

    I love that we know these things and the alphabet soup admits these things and we still get so much resistance when we try to inform or educate people.

    Are folks REALLY that brainwashed?

    Teri @ Sustainability: How sustainable can we be?
    .-= Teri´s last blog ..Fair time and crazy days – =-.

  6. says

    Thanks for this very informative article – I am a Bath & Bodyworks junkie but also health conscience so I will be investigating alternatives to some of their products in the future as a result of your article…

    Have a fabulous weekend!

    Twitter: @createwithjoy1

    • Katie says

      Happy to help! There are plenty of very awesome smelling soaps, even homemade ones from small home-based companies, that you can find once you start looking. Good luck! :) Katie

  7. says

    I seriously believe the use of hand sanitizers in doctors’ offices and hospitals has increased serious infections among patients and in hospitals. Most of my doctors’ offices no longer have sinks in the rooms and all have sanitizers.

    I do use hand sanitizers that I use after contact with others, when coming out of stores, pumping gas etc. and I use it on tables in cafes etc. You would be surprised how filthy those tables are!

    I know I need to find some other way to clean my hands etc. particularly since I have eczema which cracks my hands in the winter. I can tell you I cannot remember the last time I have had a cold etc. and I think that is because I have become aware of sources of contamination.

  8. says

    Using alcohol which is at least 80 proof is an effective antibacterial! so are vinegar, tea tree oil, lemon and other citrus juices/essential oils…and tons of other stuff.

    it doesn’t have to be the best quality alcohol if you aren’t going to drink it 😉

  9. michelle randall says

    This is all very important information to me, since I’ve become “sensitized” to triclosan. This chemical is also used as a pesticide, which I found out when washing red potatoes in standing water. My hands turned bright red with welts wherever the water reached, ever since I get blisters wherever a product containing triclosan touches.
    After being very careful to avoid products that may have been washed in laundry detergent using this as an active ingredient, I’ve also found out the hard way, that some plastics contain this.
    Remote controls in hotels, toilet seats, escalator hand rails and elevator buttons to name a few.
    We should follow Europe , Canada and Minnesotas example and ban this chemical .

  10. Katie says

    It is scary that this information isn’t more widely understood. Hand sanitizers usually have an active ingredient of ethyl alcohol, which is different than triclosan. Because of some of the risks of frequent handwashing for medical personnel (for their own skin and their patients), alcohol-based sanitizers are recommended for doctors and nurses between patients, whereas antimicrobial soaps are suggested for pre-surgery and working with severely immuno-depressed individuals. See http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/larson.htm for more.

    I’ll be posting on sanitizers specifically this spring — for now, just look out for that triclosan!

  11. Katie says

    I’d never heard of chloroxylenol, but here’s what I found:

    The EPA says: “Chloroxylenol is an antimicrobial used to control bacteria, algae and
    fungi in adhesives, emulsions, paints and wash tanks. It also is used to
    sanitize bathroom premises, diaper pails, laundry equipment, human bedding
    and pet living quarters in households, hospitals and other institutions.” It’s not toxic to birds, but extremely so to fish. source

    No info on Dr. Mercola’s site or EWG, which I was surprised about.

    The MDS Data Sheet says: “Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of ingestion.
    Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer), of inhalation.” This stuff is in soap you have? Yikes.

    It sounds as though chloroxylenol works similarly to triclosan, but perhaps stronger (?) and very effective at killing ‘streptococcus’ bacteria. This study showed no difference in effectiveness between lotion soap, antibacterial with triclosan and antibacterial with chloroxylenol.

    Kitchen Stewardship says: Stick with what works. Wash your hands. Unless you’re going into surgery, just use soap. Question anything new and flashy, and if it sounds more potent than you need, it probably is!

    Thanks for your comment! I learned something new today. :)

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