Couple of months back the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) ruling about prohibition of the sale of “consumer antiseptic washes” containing Triclosan or 18 other ingredients marketed as antimicrobial was rocking the beauty and personal care product world. Looking further into Triclosan I found that it is yet another notorious ingredient that we all need to watch out for. Read ahead for what I dug up.
Q: What is Triclosan ?
A: It is an antimicrobial chemical used in manufacturing hand and body soaps, toothpaste, acne treatments, deodorants, shampoos and numerous other personal care products. In hospitals, it is used by both patients and hospital staff and also as surgical cleaning treatment.
Q: Why is Triclosan used in personal care products?
A: Triclosan is an antibacterial agent, mainly used because of its anti-fungal + germicidal properties. It is claimed to reduce the number of bacteria that can be transmitted from person to person.
So instances where such transmission are possible presented an opportunity for the marketeers to push people to use special anti- microbial products to avoid it. E.g. Washing before preparing and eating food, after using the toilet, post playing with a pet etc.
In other skin and oral care consumer products like deodorants and toothpastes, it helps to control bacteria that cause body odors, and to prevent dental diseases.
Triclosan is also said to be effective in slowing bacterial growth in certain specialized applications such as textiles and plastics. Triclosan controls the growth of odor-causing bacteria and prevents bacterial degradation, thus extending the life of everyday household products like shower curtains and bathroom floor mats.
Q: So what is the problem?
A: Triclosan is said to be responsible for:
- Abnormalities with the endocrine system, particularly with thyroid hormone (read: messes with your hormones and could lead to fertility problems in men and women)
- Weakening of the immune system
- Birth defects
- Uncontrolled cell growth (read: Cancer)
Although most of these studies have been done on animals, not humans (which is no reason to take it lightly), but triclosan is known to be absorbed into the body and is traceable in human urine samples.
Strangely it is said that Triclosan can also react with the chlorine in our tap to create chloroform. If you have watched enough Hindi Cinema you already know what chloroform does, so don’t be surprised if one day you pass out while washing hands with your favorite antibacterial hand-wash. Ouch!
Unfortunately, triclosan is now also contaminating rivers via sewage sludge that ultimately reaches the agricultural fields, so there is a good chance we are getting exposed from environmental sources as well.
Q: What does the FDA regulation mean?
A: Studies have shown no proof that anti bacterial soaps are any better than plain soap and water at killing germs. So in September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a final rule that over-the-counter antiseptic wash products containing certain ingredients can no longer be marketed. This means companies will no longer be able to market (read-passively force you to use) antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and/or more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products.
It time we stop thinking antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, there is no scientific evidence that they are any better than ordinary soap and water. So in essence that just means it’s yet another marketing gimmick which is actually causing damage to us and our environment.
Q: What can one do now ?
A: Like I always say get into the habit of reading labels, if a product claims to be “antibacterial” there is a solid chance it contains Triclosan, so treat that as a warning label if you’re looking to avoid this chemical. Post the FDA ruling there is simply no reason to expose yourself and your family to Triclosan.
I have only recently realized the ill effects of Triclosan, since then I am actively trying to eliminate products with Triclosan out of my life. But it hasn’t been easy….these antibacterial hand washes are everywhere and the marketing has convinced folks that it is better than the ordinary soap bar. Even if I am successfully able to remove it from my house, I cannot escape it at public spaces like offices and malls. The husband is convinced that the Ayurvedic alternate is no good because it’s a certain famous Baba’s propaganda so is unwilling to give up on his favorite red gel. Finding suitable alternates that offer the same experience and ease as the big brands is tough but not impossible.
Read a list of popular products containing Triclosan here. Unfortunately it is not a list of Indian products but some of them and their counterparts are available in India. Let me know if any of you have given up Triclosan and how has your experience been in the comments.