This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!
What it is:
A chlorinated bisphenol made from petroleum derivatives (1).
What it does:
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent with some antiviral properties (2). It’s found in many products: soaps, hand washes, dishwashing products, laundry detergents and softeners, plastics (e.g., toys, cutting boards, kitchen utensils), toothpaste and mouthwashes, deodorants and antiperspirants, cosmetics and shaving creams, acne treatment products, hair conditioners, bedding, trash bags, apparel like socks and undershirts, hot tubs, plastic lawn furniture, surgical scrubs, implantable medical devices, pesticides, mattresses, insulation, carpet padding, and other flooring underlayments (3).
Why we’re featuring it today:
Triclosan is included in our Honestly Free Guarantee, meaning we’re committed to never using it. Because it’s such a widely used chemical, some people wonder why we would choose to avoid it. Here’s our reasoning in a nutshell:
- Triclosan may pose health risks. Most notably, it’s often considered a hormone disruptor that’s been linked to reproductive and developmental harm in animal studies, and it can react with the chlorine in treated tap water to produce carcinogenic chloroform (4-9). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found triclosan in the bodies of nearly 75% of Americans over the age of six and it’s also present in breast milk (10,11).
- Triclosan is persistent (meaning it lingers, creating more opportunities for it to cause harm). It’s been found in river sediment that’s over 30 years old, and it bioaccumulates in aquatic ecosystems (12-14). Some fish have been found to have levels of triclosan in their systems thousands of times higher than what was recorded in the surrounding water (15).
- There’s no good reason to use it. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), currently there’s no proof that triclosan in care products provides any health benefits beyond some minor benefits regarding gingivitis when used in toothpaste. In late 2013, they ordered manufacturers using triclosan to submit evidence that their products are safe and effective. If not, they’ll have to remove the triclosan or change their labels. Also, according to the Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics, hard products like textiles and plastics that have added triclosan aren’t delivering what consumers might assume. They say, “Microban® [another name for triclosan] controls microbial growth and odors within the impregnated surface but does not offer the user any significant protection from infectious microbes on the exterior surfaces of those items. This could potentially create a false sense of security, and cause the user to relax other efforts to keep surfaces clean.”
Want your home to be Honestly Free of triclosan?
How You Can Avoid It:
- Read labels. Look for triclosan in ingredients lists and watch for words and claims like “antibacterial” and “odor-fighting.” On clothing, toys, and hard goods, you can also look for mention of Microban or Biofresh.
- Sign the pledge. Support the national non-profit Beyond Pesticides’ campaign to curb the use of this potentially toxic antibacterial by signing their pledge to stop using triclosan. It’s a simple way to add your voice to the choir and let our government and manufacturers know we want triclosan removed from our everyday products.
- Manivannan, G. (Ed.). (2007). Disinfection and decontamination: Principles, applications and related issues. CRC press.
- Schweizer, H. P. (2001). Triclosan: a widely used biocide and its link to antibiotics. FEMS microbiology letters, 202(1), 1-7.
- Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. (2011). Triclosan. White Paper prepared by the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA).
- Crofton, K. M., Paul, K. B., DeVito, M. J., & Hedge, J. M. (2007). Short-term in vivo exposure to the water contaminant triclosan: evidence for disruption of thyroxine. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 24(2), 194-197.
- Zorrilla, L. M., Gibson, E. K., Jeffay, S. C., Crofton, K. M., Setzer, W. R., Cooper, R. L., & Stoker, T. E. (2009). The effects of triclosan on puberty and thyroid hormones in male Wistar rats. Toxicological Sciences, 107(1), 56-64.
- Dodson, R. E., Nishioka, M., Standley, L. J., Perovich, L. J., Green Brody, J., & Rudel, R. A. (2012). Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products. Environmental health perspectives, 120(7), 935.
- Hinther, A., Bromba, C. M., Wulff, J. E., & Helbing, C. C. (2011). Effects of triclocarban, triclosan, and methyl triclosan on thyroid hormone action and stress in frog and mammalian culture systems. Environmental science & technology, 45(12), 5395-5402.
- Rodríguez, P. E., & Sanchez, M. S. (2010). Maternal exposure to triclosan impairs thyroid homeostasis and female pubertal development in Wistar rat offspring. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 73(24), 1678-1688.
- Fiss, E. M., Rule, K. L., & Vikesland, P. J. (2007). Formation of chloroform and other chlorinated byproducts by chlorination of triclosan-containing antibacterial products. Environmental science & technology, 41(7), 2387-2394.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Triclosan Fact Sheet. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Triclosan_FactSheet.html
- Dann, A. B., & Hontela, A. (2011). Triclosan: environmental exposure, toxicity and mechanisms of action. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 31(4), 285.
- Singer, H., Müller, S., Tixier, C., & Pillonel, L. (2002). Triclosan: occurrence and fate of a widely used biocide in the aquatic environment: field measurements in wastewater treatment plants, surface waters, and lake sediments. Environmental Science & Technology, 36(23), 4998-5004.
- Coogan, M. A., Edziyie, R. E., La Point, T. W., & Venables, B. J. (2007). Algal bioaccumulation of triclocarban, triclosan, and methyl-triclosan in a North Texas wastewater treatment plant receiving stream. Chemosphere,67(10), 1911-1918.
- Coogan, M. A., & Point, T. W. L. (2008). Snail bioaccumulation of triclocarban, triclosan, and methyltriclosan in a North Texas, USA, stream affected by wastewater treatment plant runoff. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 27(8), 1788-1793.
- L. Samsoe-Petersen, M. Winther-Nielsen, and T. Madsen, Danish EPA, ―Fate and Effects of Triclosan,‖ September 2003.
This post was revised as of 1/14/2016.