Smarter Living: Chemical Index

Triclosan and triclocarban are antibacterial chemicals commonly added to consumer products. In laboratory studies, they have been shown to disrupt hormones and can encourage the growth of drug-resistant bacteria or "superbugs."

Health Concerns

Animal studies have shown both of these chemicals can interfere with hormones critical for normal development and function of the brain and reproductive system. Triclosan has been associated with lower levels of thyroid hormone and testosterone, which could result in altered behavior, learning disabilities, or infertility. Triclocarban has been shown to artificially amplify the effects of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which could promote the growth of breast and prostate cancer.

Furthermore, laboratory studies suggest that triclosan and triclocarban may be contributing to antibiotic resistance in bacteria known to cause human infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls antibiotic resistance one of the most pressing health issues facing the United States. Infections caused by bacteria with resistance to at least one antibiotic have been estimated to kill more than 60,000 hospitalized patients each year.

Surveys of the U.S. population from ages 6 to over 65 have found residues of triclosan in over three-quarters of people. Though triclosan has been measured in house dust, most people are likely to be exposed by applying products that contain triclosan to their skin. One study of nursing mothers found higher levels of triclosan in blood and breast milk of women who used personal care products containing triclosan.

Environmental Concerns

Most of these products get washed down the drain, where they enter our waterways and are then transported widely throughout the environment. Triclosan is one of the most frequently detected chemicals in streams across the U.S. and both triclosan and triclocarban are found in high concentrations in sediments and sewage sludge where they can persist for decades.

In the environment, antibacterial compounds could disrupt aquatic ecosystems and pose a potential risk to wildlife. Traces of triclosan have been found in earthworms from agricultural fields and Atlantic dolphins. In the lab, triclosan has been shown to interfere with development of tadpoles into frogs, a process that is dependent on thyroid hormone.

Exposure

These antibacterials are used in a number of household and personal-care products, including cosmetics, liquid hand soap, deodorant bar soap, sponges, toothpaste and cutting boards, as well as shoes, towels and clothes. They often appear on the product's list of ingredients.

Stay Safe

  • Avoid anything labeled "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" which contains triclosan or triclocarban, such as soaps, gels, cleansers, toothpaste, cosmetics and other personal care products.
  • Avoid other "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" items such as cutting boards, towels, yoga mats, shoes, clothing and bedding.
  • Use regular soap and hot water to clean effectively. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when you don’t have access to running water.

Take Action

Urge the FDA to pull products containing triclosan and triclocarban from store shelves in order to protect public health.

Learn More

Aiello A, Larson E, Levy S. Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky? Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2007;45:S137–47.

Allmyr, M., M. Adolfsson-Erici, et al. (2006). "Triclosan in plasma and milk from Swedish nursing mothers and their exposure via personal care products." Sci Total Environ 372(1): 87-93.)

Braoudaki, M., and A.C. Hilton. 2004. Low level of cross-resistance between triclosan and antibiotics in Escherichia coli K-12 and E. coli O55 compared to E. coli O157. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 235:305–309.

Braoudaki, M; Hilton, AC. Mechanisms of resistance in Salmonella enterica adapted to erythromycin, benzalkonium chloride and triclosan. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 25 (2005) 31–37.

Canosa, P., I. Rodriguez, et al. (2007). "Determination of parabens and triclosan in indoor dust using matrix solid-phase dispersion and gas chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry." Anal Chem 79(4): 1675-81.

Calafat AM, Ye X, Wong LY, Reidy JA, Needham LL. Urinary concentrations of triclosan in the U.S. population: 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2008. 116(3):303-7.

Crofton, KM; Paul, KB; DeVito, MJ; Hedge, JM. Short-term in vivo exposure to the water contaminant triclosan: Evidence for disruption of thyroxine. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2007. 24: 194–197.

Gee RH, Charles A, Taylor N, Darbre PD. Oestrogenic and androgenic activity of triclosan in breast cancer cells. J Appl Toxicol. 2008;28:78–91.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Household Products Database

Veldhoen N, Skirrow RC, Osachoff H. The bactericidal agent triclosan modulates thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and disrupts postembryonic anuran development. Aquatic Toxicology. 2006;80:217–227.

Antibacterials Q&A: Dr. Sarah Janssen on the Hazards of Hormone Disrupting Hand Cleaners

Personal Care Products Labels

Neglect at Your Own Risk: Your Thyroid and Environmental Toxins

Updating the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA): Q&A with Daniel Rosenberg

last revised 12/28/2011

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