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Washing Our Hands Of Triclosan: Good Riddance

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Long ago, I learned that "the only one who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper." We buy the same products with the same ingredients for our homes out of habit. Rather than adapt to new information about safety or effectiveness, we get in a rut. I feel that way when I am in a doctor's office or a hospital bathroom and the familiar hand soap pump is on the sink. I can't help myself when I turn the bottle around and check the label for ingredients, which more times than not lists triclosan. The good news this week was that the FDA announced that I no longer have to worry because they are banning triclosan and 18 other ingredients in antiseptic wash products (http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm517478.htm). What is so bad about triclosan and the related chemicals and why is it in the news?

Triclosan has been added to hand soaps as well as other products like toothpaste, deodorants, eye shadows, and moisturizers due to its "antibacterial" action. A concern about the health effects of triclosan has been growing. For example, Walmart Corporaton has a list of chemicals it is pressuring suppliers to remove from products sold at their stores and triclosan was recently added to the list (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-20/wal-mart-asks-suppliers-to-remove-eight-chemicals-from-products). Triclosan was removed from wash products in part because there was no evidence that it worked to clean hands better than plain old soap. In 2004, scientists did the best kind of research study, a randomized, double-blind study, involving over 1,000 persons (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14996673). The question studied was whether home products with antibacterial agents prevented disease better than standard products. What was observed? There was no reduction in illnesses in families using products with antibacterial chemicals. In 2007, researchers reviewed the medical literature up to that time and concluded that "soaps containing triclosan ... were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms" (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17683018). Recently another investigation of triclosan in soap was published (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26374612). When 20 bacterial strains were exposed to plain soap or soap with triclosan, there was no difference in the killing bacteria in situations that mimicked hand washing.

In a position paper from the Environmental Working Group, shocking scientific statistics were shared. Tricolosan can be measured in the bodies of 75 percent of those tested, is highest in 20- to 29-year-olds, and is found in nearly all adolescent girls tested (http://www.ewg.org/testimony-official-correspondence/triclosan-containing-antibacterial-soaps-neither-safe-nor). Apparently we don't just wash and rinse this chemical off but it gets absorbed through our mouths and skin. Furthermore, triclosan interferes with multiple hormonal systems including thyroid, testosterone, and estrogenic pathways and is therefore called an endocrine disrupting chemical. The potential impact on children and those in reproductive years is very concerning. Triclosan has also been linked to allergy and asthma.

Triclosan and related chemicals also end up in water treatment plants and agricultural fields. It has been found in waterways that serve as sources of drinking water. Crops can also pick up this chemical exposing us to even higher concentrations of this endocrine disruptor.

It is great news that the FDA has banned triclosan and the other chemicals from hand wash. However it is still found in many home products including popular toothpastes. The pressure on manufacturers by retailers like Target Corporation and Wal-Mart will undoubtedly lead to the phasing out of these additives with no proven health benefits. Vote with your wallet, read the labels, do your research, and by products marked "triclosan free" to make that happen sooner than later.