According to federal regulators, the safety of triclosan remains under active review, but it appears clear that the active ingredient often used in hand soap provides very few benefits, if any.
Last week, the FDA issued a triclosan consumer safety guide, titled “5 Things to Know About Triclosan”, which provides updated information on the widely used chemical that is designed to kill bacteria. It is commonly found in products like hand sanitizer, soap and toothpaste, as well as some clothing, kitchenware, furniture and children’s toys.
Despite the widespread use, the safety of triclosan has been widely debated, as some studied have shown negative health effects. Previous research has linked triclosan to liver damage and impaired fetal development in pregnant women. But the FDA said in the guide that it’s overall safety is still being debated.
“Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. But we don’t know the significance of those findings to human health,” the consumer guide states. “Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At this time, we don’t have enough information available to assess the level of risk that triclosan poses for the development of antibiotic resistance.”
However, the FDA indicated it also does not have evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antiseptic products have benefit to human health, or evidence indicating there is additional benefit to using products with triclosan, like body washes, compared to using regular soap and water.
Triclosan does have some benefits for use in humans. In 1997, a review of data on triclosan in Colgate Total toothpaste indicated it was effective in preventing gingivitis.
Recently, the FDA issued a ban of more than two dozen OTC antiseptic products, including triclosan, due to evidence of harm to consumers. The ban calls on companies to put the products through new drug approval processes showing consumer safety before the products are allowed to go to market.
The FDA safety guide also noted that consumers wanting the avoid the chemical need only look on a product’s label. If an OTC drug is included in a product, like a toothpaste with triclosan, the ingredient must be listed on the ingredient list.
Additionally, the FDA indicated the agency continues to review the safety and effectiveness data on triclosan and other antiseptic drug products, as well as monitor follow-up studies on triclosan’s safety, and will update consumers accordingly.