Triclosan – Tooth and Hand Poison Anyone?
We’ve all seen television shows or even fictitious portrayals of doctors and nurses getting ready to do surgery. They scrub up and try to get their hands as free of germs as possible. It is a big job and seems like a lot of work with the potential to still allow germs into the operating theater. However, it was in 1972 when scientists created a helpful shortcut by introducing the chemical known as Triclosan and adding into surgical scrub formulas. Just a few squirts of this potent compound could kill off any potentially harmful germs and keep a procedure sterile.
Naturally, the benefits of a topical agent that could kill germs would not stay long out of the public’s hands, and since that time, we’ve seen it appear in an ever widening range of products. Today, it can begin to feel like we are a nation of germophobes with the diversity of hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere from gyms and markets to operating rooms and more. Yet, there are some Triclosan dangers that make using it in soaps and those many sanitizing gels much less desirable than we might initially realize.
What Is Triclosan Used For Today?
Now, we just learned that it was initially used for pre-surgical prep and has since spread to everything from gels you carry in a bag to soaps you keep by the kitchen sink to the toothpaste you use each morning. Yet, it has been determined to cause adverse health issue and may be helping many bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics and even to sanitizing products themselves. This means we need to know just what Triclosan is to better understand why you will want to avoid it.
What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is a chemical agent that is used as an antimicrobial compound, which means it is able to kill or inhibit bacteria or fungi from growing or thriving. It can keep hands and objects free of germs, leaving them sterile. This is why it is used in those gels and soaps, but it now appears in any number of cosmetics, health and beauty products (including toothpastes and deodorants), and products as unique as toys and clothes.
While you might know it by its official name, there are other names for Triclosan that have emerged as more and more people seek to avoid it. For example, it is also known as Biofresh, Cloxifenolum Irgasan, Lexol-300, Microban, and Ster-Zac. Microban, as a prime example, has gone far beyond cosmetics and skincare. It appears in everything from socks to your kitchen utensils!
And yet, if it helps us to keep our homes, hospitals, clothes and bodies so free of harmful and dangerous germs, why is it something that we should avoid?
There is actually a long list of reasons to do so. Let’s look at Triclosan harmful effects and problems.
The Triclosan Side Effects
One of the main reasons that experts tell us to avoid products containing Triclosan is that it bioaccumulates in the body. All this means is that it slowly builds up in our bodily tissues. This can have some major health impacts, and it is why the Canadian Medical Association has gone so far as to suggest a Triclosan ban in many different products.
In fact, a study reported in the magazine Scientific American noted that it is so bioaccumulative that it has now been measured in human urine, blood and breast milk.
Sadly, it is an environmental hazard, too and the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. have discovered that it appears in more than half of the waterways in the U.S. It is that virulent and impossible to destroy.
In addition to building up in the tissue and the environment, reaching toxic levels rather quickly, it is also known to be an endocrine disruptor. This means it is one of several problematic chemicals noted for interfering with the body’s hormone systems. This can lead to developmental disorders, cancerous tumors, birth defects and more. The National Institutes for Health in the U.S. explains that known endocrine disruptors should be avoided as they:
…may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife… Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.
It is also suspected to be carcinogenic, meaning it can cause cancer in those who use it over the long term. This is because of its link to dioxins. These are highly carcinogenic and also weaken the immune system, lead to birth defects, and more. Dioxins are a family of compounds and two of the worst are produced whenever Triclosan breaks down after being exposed to UV light or chlorine. This is one reason that experts say it is so prevalent in public water sources, but it also means that it can easily pose a threat to humans using it over the long term or on a daily basis.
You might have also read of concerns about germ resistance. We use so many products containing Triclosan that scientists fear that it is now contributing to many bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. This means it can also weaken the human immune system. Studies have also shown that children who are exposed to the use of this antibacterial agent show signs of developing eczema, allergies and asthma.
Of course, the threats it poses to the environment just cannot be ignored. It is incredibly harmful to marine life and is one of the seven most deadly compounds in the natural world. One report indicates:
The Australian Department of Health has warned that using a number of products containing Triclosan, such as medicated soaps, antibacterial hand washes and toothpaste, could be a risk to our health over time.
And went on to emphasize the environmental threats of residual Triclosan to the environment. With artificial fragrances and other risky ingredients, any of the sanitizing products or items using Triclosan are best avoided.
Naturally, many people are curious about replacement options for such an effective antibacterial agent. After all, what’s not to love about something that can so effectively remove the threat of dangerous bacterial?
Are you someone who has asked “how does Triclosan work?” in order to figure out a substitute? If so, let’s take a moment to answer that question and then start to consider the alternatives to this potent chemical.
How Does Triclosan Work?
It requires a bit of science speak to understand the answer to that question. First of all, let’s consider what it technically is capable of doing. One white paper provided by Tufts University has this to say:
Triclosan possesses mostly antibacterial properties (kills or slows down the growth of bacteria), but also some antifungal and antiviral properties. Triclosan is most often used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces, although it sometimes is used to preserve the product against deterioration due to microbes.
It is capable of destroying:
- Acinetobacter spp
- Enterococci: Escherichia coli , Klebsiella pneumonia, Klebsiella spp, Enterobacter spp
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Proteus mirabilis
- Proteus spp
It does not destroy Clostridium difficile or Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
It functions by blocking the “active site of the enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase enzyme (ENR)”. This is an enzyme that conducts fatty acid synthesis within the bacteria. By doing this, it inhibits enzyme activity and effectively blocks the bacteria from reproducing and building cell membranes. Humans do not have the enzymes needed, so the bacteria just cannot thrive in the presence of the Triclosan.
This action (being able to block reproduction of a wide range of harmful bacteria) is a good explanation of the great diversity of places where is Triclosan used. Not only do we see it in soaps and hand scrubs, but also in detergents, embedded into plastic toys and cutting boards, added to mouthwashes and toothpastes, part of antiperspirant formulations, acne products, shaving products, shampoos and conditioners, bedding, garbage bags, a variety of plastic furnishings, medical devices and more. It is actually in use in hundreds of products.
With Triclosan in toothpaste, Triclosan in cosmetics and Triclosan in antibacterial soap, it can feel as if there is just no escaping it. Fortunately, the health and beauty product industry has already started to respond and is making everything from Triclosan free toothpaste to Triclosan free cosmetics products.
The Benefits of Triclosan Free Products
If you want to use Triclosan free antibacterial soap, you are doing more than keeping yourself safe from potential problems brought about by the compound. This is because many scientists and health experts have agreed that Triclosan has made many of us dangerously lazy or blasé about bacteria. As that Tufts University report said:
Triclosan is used as a built-in antimicrobial product protection, under the trade name of Microban [and] is engineered into a breadth of materials including: polymers, textiles, coatings, ceramics, paper and adhesives. Microban 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.
Just consider that…have you gotten a bit lax in your hand washing routines if you happen to have a bottle of hand sanitizer on hand? Maybe you don’t properly sterilize your cutting boards – or even know how because you use something with Microban? What about your cosmetics, toothpaste and other goods?
This last group is the most important because research has consistently shown the benefits to be enjoyed from using chemical free skincare and chemical free cosmetics. Naturally, this won’t apply to those in healthcare settings who have weakened immunity and who benefit from Triclosan’s trustworthy sanitary powers.
However, outside of such settings, most medical authorities indicate that vigorous hand washing in warm, soapy water is enough to combat the germs that Triclosan destroys. Experts also say that the use of:
- Certified Organic cosmetics
- Certified Organic toothpastes
- Certified Organic hand washes
- Certified Organic body washes
- Certified Organic skincare products, may be enough to protect you from the risks
Are you eager to protect yourself from the potential hazards found in the many products and items featuring Triclosan? If so, start searching for all natural Certified Organic skincare products and lines as well as non-toxic cosmetics that do not contain the preservatives, antibacterial agents or other harmful materials that put you at risk.
It just doesn’t make any sense to jeopardize your health and well-being to destroy some bacteria that you can just as easily destroy with non-toxic approaches. People have existed for millennia without Triclosan, and will continue to do so long after it disappears from store shelves.
Mightynest.com. (2017). Dangers of Triclosan. [online] Available at: https://mightynest.com/learn/research-by-concern/dangers-of-triclosan
National Institute of Environmental Health Services. (2017). Endocrine Disruptors. [online] Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
Anon, (2017). [ebook] Available at: http://emerald.tufts.edu/med/apua/consumers/personal_home_21_4240495089.pdf