If you have ever used a product that claims to fight odor or kill germs, you have most likely been exposed to the chemical triclosan.
Triclosan is the active ingredient in a wide range of antimicrobial products. From soap and toothpaste to cutting boards, socks, and yoga mats—triclosan acts as an antiseptic that keeps you and your surfaces clean. The problem is that triclosan is absorbed through the skin, showing up later in both breast milk and urine.
An active ingredient in antimicrobial products called triclosan can absorb directly into your skin. Triclosan absorption can impact hormones, fertility, and breast cancer risk.
Some studies assert that triclosan found in toiletries and cosmetics may pose the highest risk of absorption. (1)(2)
According to Colleen Rogers, Ph.D. and lead microbiologist at the FDA, there currently is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective than plain soap and water. (3)
She explains, "New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits."
The Risks of Triclosan
What does triclosan do in your body? It largely affects your reproductive and hormonal systems.
Research shows that triclosan:
- Interferes With Hormones: Specifically—estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones. In animal studies, triclosan has been proven to reduce levels of thyroid hormones. (4)(5) Thyroid hormones keep your metabolic fires stoked, making them essential to a strong immune system and a healthy pregnancy.
- Increases the Risk of Breast Cancer: The estrogenic nature of triclosan allows it to bind to hormone receptors that are meant for estrogen. And because triclosan can bind to estrogen receptors, research shows that it may stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependant breast cancer. (6)
- Reduces Fertility: In men, triclosan may interfere with the production of sperm. It can also affect sperm health and testicular health. (7)
Triclosan contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance, which is becoming more common (and deadly) with each passing year. (8)(9)
Because triclosan doesn’t just stay on the surface of your skin, its antiseptic qualities penetrate into the body. This means that the microbes living inside your body also come into contact with triclosan.
One study published by a team of researchers at Stanford University found that you are more likely to carry extra weight with repeated exposure to triclosan. (10) As the researchers explain, triclosan “has the potential to alter both gut microbiota and endocrine function and thereby affect body weight.”
Watch out for allergies too. Recent research published in partnership with the CDC found that high levels of triclosan in children were associated with respiratory allergies. (11)
7 Ways to Avoid Triclosan
The new regulations on triclosan only affect soaps and body wash, requiring that manufacturers first demonstrate the safety of the chemical before including it in their product.
But what can you do about all the other products in your home that may contain triclosan?
- Product labels: While reading labels will help you to avoid triclosan, some products that contain triclosan are not clearly labeled. Other names for triclosan include Microban, Irgasan, Biofresh, Lexol-300, Ster-Zac, and Cloxifenolum.
- Bar, liquid, and foaming soaps: Choose to wash with handmade soaps or castile soap. Only buy soaps from manufacturers that list ingredients you can understand.
- Underarm deodorants: Homemade deodorants—using coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oils—may work for you. Also, consider giving magnesium oil a try. Magnesium oil under the arms will control odor.
- Toothpaste and mouthwash: A simple rinse with baking soda and essential oils is a natural and gentle antiseptic.
- Laundry detergents and fabric softeners: Luckily, there are now several natural products on the market that safely clean your clothes. If you are adventurous, you can try soap nuts, which are 100% natural and reusable. For the dryer, wool dryer balls will leave clothes fluffy and static-free.
- Baby toys: Believe it or not, some baby toys contain triclosan. (12)(13) The worst offenders are plastic toys. If you have the option, choose toys made from natural materials, like wood.
- In the kitchen: While “antimicrobial” plastic surfaces may sound clean and enticing, antimicrobial kitchenware often contains triclosan. Instead, opt for natural utensils and natural surfaces—such as wooden spoons and cutting boards, glass or enamelware, and stainless steel storage containers. And when you need to clean a surface? A little castile soap or apple cider vinegar in water will do the trick. If you're worried about bacteria, add a few drops of lemon or rosemary essential oil for good measure.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Triclosan is the active ingredient found in numerous antimicrobial products, including soaps, toothpastes, and cutting boards. Unfortunately, triclosan is absorbed into the skin. Antimicrobial soaps containing triclosan have not been proven any more effective at cleaning than soap and water.
Triclosan is a risky ingredient that has a great effect on the body to:
- Interfere with hormones.
- Increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Reduce male fertility.
What's more, triclosan can also contribute to antibiotic resistance—a potentially deadly epidemic sweeping the nation. Research shows that triclosan affects the healthy microbes in your body and can cause weight gain, as well as respiratory allergies in children.
You can rid your home of this harmful ingredient by reading product labels carefully and choosing safer alternatives to soap, deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash, baby toys, and antimicrobial kitchen surfaces.
- Allmyr, M., Adolfsson-Erici, M., McLachlan, M. S., & Sandborgh-Englund, G. (2006). Triclosan in plasma and milk from Swedish nursing mothers and their exposure via personal care products. Science of the Total environment, 372(1), 87-93.
- Calafat, A. M., Ye, X., Wong, L. Y., Reidy, J. A., & Needham, L. L. (2008). Urinary concentrations of triclosan in the US population: 2003–2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(3), 303.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lee, H., Park, M., Yi, B., & Choi, K. (2012). Octylphenol and triclosan induced proliferation of human breast cancer cells via an estrogen receptor-mediated signaling in vitro.
- Lan, Z., Hyung Kim, T., Shun Bi, K., Hui Chen, X., & Sik Kim, H. (2013). Triclosan exhibits a tendency to accumulate in the epididymis and shows sperm toxicity in male sprague‐dawley rats. Environmental toxicology.
- Middleton, J. H., & Salierno, J. D. (2012). Antibiotic resistance in triclosan tolerant fecal coliforms isolated from surface waters near wastewater treatment plant outflows (Morris County, NJ, USA). Ecotoxicology and environmental safety.
- Bush, K., Courvalin, P., Dantas, G., Davies, J., Eisenstein, B., Huovinen, P., ... & Zgurskaya, H. I. (2011). Tackling antibiotic resistance. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 9(12), 894-896.
- Lankester, J., Patel, C., Cullen, M. R., Ley, C., & Parsonnet, J. (2013). Urinary Triclosan is Associated with Elevated Body Mass Index in NHANES. PloS one, 8(11), e80057.
- Bertelsen, R. J., Longnecker, M. P., Løvik, M., Calafat, A. M., Carlsen, K. H., London, S. J., & Lødrup Carlsen, K. C. (2013). Triclosan exposure and allergic sensitization in Norwegian children. Allergy, 68(1), 84-91.
- Glaser, A. (2004). The ubiquitous triclosan. A common antibacterial agent exposed. Pesticides and You, 24, 12-17.
- Bedoux, G., Roig, B., Thomas, O., Dupont, V., & Le Bot, B. (2012). Occurrence and toxicity of antimicrobial triclosan and by-products in the environment. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 19(4), 1044-1065.
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