There has been plenty of news lately about the dangers of Tricosan, but many people are still puzzled about the chemical. I interviewed Dr. Larry Weiss, chief scientist and founder of hand sanitizer and soap manufacturer CleanWell about the topic. Here are his answers.
KB: What is Triclosan?
Dr. Weiss: Triclosan and the closely related compound Triclocarban, are synthetic antimicrobial compounds that are used in a wide range of daily-use consumer products. They were introduced in 1972 in the form of antibacterial soaps and have proliferated into deodorants, toothpaste, shaving cream, mouthwash, and many others. It is also used in a wide range of plastic products under the Microban brand as well as others. Wikipedia has an excellent page on Triclosan.
KB: Why is it used so extensively in personal care products?
Dr. Weiss: Excellent question. I suspect that it was added because the large consumer brands selling those products found that [adding it helped them sell] more product. They have spent a lot of money convincing people that they need these products to protect themselves. In all fairness, at the time they were introduced most of the the concerns that we we have about this chemistry were unknown. However, considering the fact that Triclosan was a relatively new compound that never existed until it was synthesized in the laboratory AND we had just had a bad problem with hexachlorophene (PhisoHex), we should have known better. Nevertheless, even in the face of rising health concerns that it disrupts estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormone systems, interferes with neuro-development and fertility, degrades into dioxins in the environment, and is found in most of our blood and urine, it continues to be a common ingredient in consumer products. This is especially egregious in heavily scented antibacterial soaps that are marketed to young girls during puberty.
KB: Okay, so if it’s so dangerous, why is it still allowed to be used in consumer products — especially those marketed to kids and teens?
Dr. Weiss: Over $200 million in raw triclosan is used as an ingredient in over $5 billion worth of consumer and commercial products. The industry momentum and lobbyist have taken the position that until you can prove that Triclosan causes some specific medical problem, they should be entitled to market it. Europe has taken a different approach with what is known as the the Precautionary Principle. This states that a company has to prove that an ingredient has little to no risk of causing medical problems when used as directed before it can be marketed. Every effort to get the FDA or EPA to reevaluate their position on this has been stalled or stopped. These efforts continue but progress on the regulatory front has been slow in coming.
This raises the question: Do consumers really need to use all those antimicrobial products? We live in a microbial world and our skin and digestive systems depend on the health and integrity of the bacterial colonies, or Microbiomes, that surround us. Good personal hygiene is as much about being a good steward of these bacterial colonies that keep us healthy as it is about cleanliness. That means good hand hygiene and good hygiene of the surfaces that hands touch. So, coming back to the question – does everyone who is currently using Triclosan products and other toxic disinfectants really need them? The answer is no, of course not. But some people do and many more want the extra protection if it doesn’t mean that they have to use toxic chemicals or damage their natural microbiomes. Some because they have a member of the household with a medical condition wherein illness would be more than a minor inconvenience. Others want the additional protection because we know that many of us don’t always wash as well as we should and we want to avoid the inconvenience of illness itself — sick kids who can’t go to school, missed work, and discomfort. This extra level of protection only makes sense if the products are safe and appropriately formulated for use by families and children. That is what we have done with CleanWell.
KB: Where are the most common places Triclosan can be found?
Dr. Weiss: Antibacterial soaps are a big source. About 70 percent of liquid soaps today contain Triclosan. Also, liquid dish soap, toothpaste and mouthwash, deodorants, plastics. And most human breast milk, most of our blood and urine, and waste water – where it ends up concentrated and bound to the sludge that is sold as “biosolids” and used as fertilizer for agriculture.
KB: What are the most common misconceptions about Triclosan?
Dr. Weiss: Probably that most people who are buying it today don’t even know it. They are surprised to find that it is in so many products that they have been buying for so long.
KB: So, bottom line, what’s the number one reason I should I avoid it?
Dr. Weiss: See above. Also, perhaps one of the best resources on this can be found at Food and Water Watch.
I want to thank Dr. Weiss for taking the time to do this interview. His company sells products that contain a natural alternative to Triclosan, thyme oil. As he told me, “Every bottle of CleanWell soap represents a bottle of a Triclosan product that will not be sold, manufactured, or end up in our bodies or the environment. This is one of the most effective tools that we have today to eliminate Triclosan.”
There are other alternatives, too. Most regular bar soap does not contain Triclosan, and there are plenty of liquid soaps that are free of the chemical, too. Honestly, the FDA came out and said that regular soap is just as effective as Triclosan-containing soap for preventing illness, so why WOULD you buy something with Triclosan? Want more proof? Read some of my past columns about the chemical here.
Your best defense against the stuff: Read labels, ask questions, and tell your local politicians that we’re done being guinea pigs. Getting off soap box now…