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: