Hand Washing vs. Triclosan



Triclosan, a phenyl ether derivative, was introduced in the 1970s as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It has been linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, cancer, and thyroid or endocrine disruption. Initially used in hospitals, the toxic chemical ingredient is now pervasive in over-the-counter products found in schools, businesses, bathrooms, and around the home. Consumer products such as antibacterial hand gel, toothpaste, soaps, detergents, and shower gels, and even toys, changing tables, and kids’ seats in shopping carts contain this chemical agent.

Until the recent FDA ruling, the safety of anti-bacterial components like triclosan, or one of the 18 other similar antiseptic active ingredients, was not questioned enough. However, the FDA has now found that certain active ingredients pose health risks, and have not been proven to be safe and effective. Those 19 misbranded ingredients will be banned from over-the-counter antibacterial hand and body washes by September of 2017. Products that are not rinsed off are excluded from this rule. It is interesting to note that Colgate-Total toothpaste still contains triclosan, even though the gum tissue absorbs chemicals much more readily than the skin.

Outside health care settings, the American Medical Association and the FDA have concluded that there is no proof that the ingredients in question are more effective than regular hand washing to stop the spread of food borne illness, germs, and bacteria. So, wash your hands if you can, instead of reaching for that bottle of sanitizer. Companies may slightly alter the banned chemicals and continue to use ones that are just as harmful, if not more so.

Harmful ingredients lurk in many products you might consider safe. Check labels and don’t purchase products that contain triclosan or similar active ingredients. If you have questions about what ingredients are safe, have a look at the website for the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a database of information to help people live in a healthier environment.