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Triclosan imageWhat It Is

Triclosan is a synthetic microbial added to some consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is designed to kill germs and is a registered pesticide. It was initially made for hospital environments, as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. However, over the last 30 years, triclosan has found its way into everyday products, including antibacterial soaps, body washes, toothpastes, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, toys, and mattresses.

The Health Concerns

There are a variety of health concerns associated with triclosan, such as endocrine disruption, triclosan-resistant bacteria, environmental toxicity, and bioaccumulation (builds up in the body). Triclosan is a hormone disruptor that impacts the thyroid[1] and is linked to increased risk of breast cancer. It has been found in breast milk[2] and the umbilical cords of babies.

The European Union classifies triclosan as a skin and eye irritant, and toxic to aquatic life. As a microbe-killing agent, it’s actually been shown to be substantially more likely to kill aquatic life like algae, crustaceans, and fish.[3] In addition, triclosan has been shown to contribute to the rise of “superbugs,” which are bacteria and viruses that have become resistant to antimicrobials and antibacterials.[4]

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banning the use of triclosan and 18 other antibacterial ingredients including triclocarban in consumer antibacterial hand soaps after years of petitioning from numerous non-governmental organizations. Companies that use these ingredients in their soap will have until September 2017 to comply with the final rule by removing products from the market or reformulating their products without the antibacterial active ingredients.

Although this final rule is a step in the right direction, we must remember triclosan can still be found in a wide range of consumer products in the United States, like personal care products, acne treatments, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant.

How to Avoid It

  • Read labels, and avoid triclosan and triclocarban.
  • Wash hands with plain soap and water. It is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid spreading germs and getting sick. Also, the CDC recommends scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday in your head).
  • Try to avoid products labeled or marketed as “antimicrobial,” “odor fighting,” “germ-killing,” or “antibacterial”.


[1] Zorrilla L, Gibson EK, Jeffay SC, Crofton KM, Setzer Wr, Cooper RL, and Stoker TE. “The effects of Triclosan on Puberty and Thyroid Hormones in Male Wistar Rats.” 107(1) 56-64. Print

[2] Adolfsson-Erici M, Pettersson M, Parkkonen J, and Sturve J. “Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden.” Chemosphere. 46(9-10):1485-9. Print

[3] Chalew TE and Halden RU. “Environmental Exposure of Aquatic and Terrestrial Biota to Triclosan and Triclocarban.” J Am Water Works Assoc. 2009;45(1):4-13. Print.

[4] Heath R, Li J, Roland GE, and Rock CO. “Inhibition of Staphylococcus aureus NADPH-dependent enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase by triclosan and hexachlorophene.” Journal of Biological Chemistry. 275: 4654-9. Print