With mountains of data suggesting the antibacterial soap chemical triclosan is a toxic ripoff and completely unnecessary for everyday use, the Food and Drug Administration finally announced it’s banning the ingredient in consumer hand and body washes. As the FDA bans triclosan and related antibacterial soap chemicals, manufacturers have one year to remove it and 18 other antibacterial ingredients from products (or pull products containing these ingredients from store shelves).
FDA Bans Triclosan: the Details
For years, even the FDA admitted that regular soap and water proved just as effective as antibacterial soaps without the harmful side effects, urging everyday people to skip out on the overkill of using antibacterial soap. (1) One of the major concerns? It became increasingly clear that using antibiotic soaps contributed to antibiotic resistance. The more we expose germs to germ-fighting substances like antibiotics and antibacterial soaps, the better they adapt. Nature’s good at that. So by the time the FDA finally moved to ban triclosan and related compounds in early September 2016, antibiotic resistance exploded into a full-blown global health crisis.
In 2013, the FDA issued a rule requiring companies to provide data proving antibacterial chemicals were safe and effective. In addition, they had to demonstrate antibacterial products were superior to non-antibacterial ones in regards to preventing human illness or reducing infection. (And they had to use data from clinical trials.) Companies weren’t able to do this, according to the FDA.
That prompted many companies to start voluntarily pulling triclosan from their products and replacing them with other antibacterial chemicals not on the FDA’s current ban list. (This begs the question, are we just replacing one list of dangerous ingredients with another?)
So as the FDA bans triclosan & related compounds, including triclocarban (triclosan’s cousin found in antibacterial bar soap) here’s are the main takeaways:
- The active ingredients involved in this FDA antibacterial ingredient ban include: cloflucarban, fluorosalan, hexachlorophene, hexylresorcinol, iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate), iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol), nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine, poloxamer-iodine complex, povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent, undecoylium chloride iodine complex, methylbenzethonium chloride, phenol (greater than 1.5 percent), phenol (less than 1.5 percent) 16, secondary amyltricresols, sodium oxychlorosene, tribromsalan, triclocarban, triclosan, triple dye
- Manufacturers will have one year to comply with the rulemaking by removing products from the market or reformulating (removing antibacterial active ingredients) these products
- This FDA ban applies to over-the-counter consumer hand soaps and body washes . It does not ban the uses of these antibacterial soap chemicals sanitizers or wipes, or in soaps used in hospital or food service settings.
- The FDA is allowing one more year before ruling on three other antibacterial ingredients in consumer soaps and body washes — benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) Consumer antibacterial washes containing these specific ingredients may be marketed during this time while data are being collected. (2, 3)
“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.” — Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
FDA Bans Triclosan: What Took So Long?
Let me be clear: Whenever FDA makes a decision that favors public health over corporations, we need to take a moment and applaud that effort. But let’s not forget — that’s the agency’s job. And over the year’s, there’s been quite a bit of evidence suggesting triclosan should not have found its way into everyday products in the first place. As the FDA bans triclosan today, it’s important to notes that we’ve known for quite some time that it’s one of worst endocrine disruptors to date. It threatens the efficacy of our lifesaving antibiotics. And it begs the question: Why are questionable ingredients allowed on the market? Why is the FDA allowing the American public to be guinea pigs?
While scientists hunkered down to bring us years of data, organizations like Environmental Working Group conducted research and even built the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to help consumers figure out the dangers of everyday personal care products. In a first-of-its kind study, in 2008, EWG found triclosan and 15 other toxic chemicals in blood and urine of 20 teen girls from eight states and the District of Columbia.
“EWG research found industry adding this sketchy, endocrine-disrupting germ killer to all kinds of soaps and even to toothpaste. Nine years ago we found it at disturbing levels in San Francisco Bay.
Worse yet, EWG studies detected the stuff in breast milk and in bodies of teenage girls. Clearly this is an industry that needed a good, swift kick in the triclosan. It took far too long, but … the FDA delivered.” — Ken Cook, co-found and president of EWG
As the FDA bans triclosan, it’s a good time to look back on its ties to numerous health and environmental problems:
Aside from making our drugs less effective and in some cases, useless, antibacterial overkill is also impacting our immune systems. Triclosan tampers with testosterone and thyroid levels. It also impacts estrogen adaptors and synthesis. Triclosan stores itself in certain cells and even is able to hide in breast milk and blood. This poses the threat of long-term hormonal effects that could impact the immune system health, fertility and pregnancy. (4)
In 2013, Norwegian researchers found that triclosan concentrations in urine samples were associated with allergic sensitization, especially inhalant and seasonal allergens, in children. The study found that triclosan levels measured in urine were associated with elevated levels of immunoglobulin E and rhinitis (blocked nose/hay fever) in the more than 600 children studied. (5) Studies in the U.S. came to similar conclusions. (6)
A 2014 animal study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that long-term exposure to triclosan caused liver damage, including increased risk of liver cancer. (7)
When triclosan degrades, it turns into dioxin. Dioxin is a carcinogen and has been linked to different types of cancer. In fact, triclosan can manifest itself in the body as a producer of uncontrolled cell growth. Combined with chlorinated, toxic tap water, it forms chloroform, another cancer causer.
Oversanitation is leaving us sicker than ever. According to the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma & Immunology, rates of allergies, learning disabilities, infections and inflammatory bowel disease have only continued to climb despite better hygiene. (8) According to a 2013 publication in the Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, studies show that wiping ourselves clean of beneficial microbial organisms — whether by taking antibiotics, over-cleaning our homes or never acquiring them in the first place — affects the microbiome in a way that can contribute to seasonal or food allergies, asthma, obesity, digestive issues like IBS, and autoimmune disorders. (9)
And get this. Oversanitation might even make you more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues. For example, in certain animal studies, it’s been found that in germ-free rats, intestinal epithelial cells — those that line the gut and form a physical barrier that’s important for immunity — experience abnormal changes to microvilli (which help with nutrient absorption) and decreased rates of cell turnover compared to animals living in the wild.
The Environmental Protection Agency even admits that when triclosan reacts with sunlight, it dioxin, a potent carcinogen. That’s a big problem, considering that triclosan routinely turns up in water samples. Studies show its present in nearly 60 percent of U.S. streams and rivers. It damages aquatic animals and plant life, kills algae, and affects and even changes hormones and sex of fish. And it’s everywhere. Not just inside of us, but also inside of fish, sea worms, dolphins and even earthworms. (10)
Are the New Antibacterial Ingredients Safe?
As the FDA bans triclosan, it’s important to note it’s still allowed on store shelves for a year. And three other antibacterial chemicals, including benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) are still getting a free pass. Let’s take a close look at these three ingredients that skirted the current FDA antibacterial ingredients ban.
There’s strong evidence that this antibacterial ingredient is linked to allergy problems in humans, including severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Environmental Working Group notes this ingredient is considered especially dangerous to people with skin conditions like eczema. Unfortunately, this ingredient is also associated with the development of resistant bacteria. (11)
EWG rates this as a safer ingredient, but notes there’s a “data gap,” meaning more research is needed for this ingredient. It’s generally used in cleaning products (it’s part of the quaternary ‘quat’ ammonium salt family), and Canada and Japan don’t allow it in cosmetic products, and it’s proven to trigger allergies. (12, 13) Again, it’s overkill to put this in everyday soap products. Just use regular castile soap and water.
Known to trigger allergies in humans and highly toxic to cats, this is another example of oversanitation. You don’t need this high-powered cleaner in your home. (14)
I’ve been warning of the dangers of triclosan and oversanitation for years. The truth is making our homes and food supply squeaky clean is actually leading to weaker immune system function, increasing the risk of allergies, digestive diseases and even cancer. Just use regular castile soap and water. It’s as simple as that! You don’t even need to use hot water. Just be sure to suds up and scrub your hands for about 20 seconds.