Last week, I was brushing my teeth and was a bit bored, so looked around for some reading material to get through my 2 min brush routine (please tell me I’m not the only one who does that!). Anyway, I picked up the toothpaste and was shocked to see triclosan listed on the label. If you’ve been following the health news in recent years, you must have come across triclosan. It’s an antibacterial that can be found in countless hand soaps, sanitizers, detergents and what not. Its safety has been questioned many times and yet it is still being used in so many products.
I’m usually careful about the kind of toothpaste I use, but my hubby isn’t a fan of “natural” toothpaste, so we still use the commercially available kind. I try to buy products with better ingredients, but when hubby dearest is shopping, he forgets to read the label! So to my surprise, when I did get around to reading the label on our current toothpaste, I found triclosan on it. Yikes! It got me a little worried, but as with everything, I have to dig into the research before reaching any conclusions.
Let’s dive into the science behind triclosan and figure out whether or not it’s something we need to be worried about. Let’s go…
So what exactly is triclosan?
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent found in many consumer products such as soaps, detergents, toothpaste, facial cleansers, mouthwash, toys and even chopping boards! It was first used in the 1970s as an ingredient in hand soap and since then it has found its way into many products. Its effectiveness has been debatable and the ingredient itself is very controversial.
In 2015, the EU’s chemical agency proposed a ban on triclosan in many consumer products . The main reason to ban it? This is what the ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) paper says about the use of triclosan in human hygiene products:
In view of the conclusions of the evaluation, it is proposed that Triclosan shall not be approved, as no safe use could be demonstrated.
The ECHA isn’t just any organization – it’s the driving force among regulatory authorities in implementing the EU’s chemicals policies. What they have to say is important.
It’s so disappointing that a substance that is restricted in Europe can still be found so readily here in North America, even though we know that there are potential risks.
What are the potential dangers of using triclosan?
So here is what you really need to know before you decide whether or not triclosan is something you want to use.
- It can cause an increase in allergies and food sensitization in children .
- It can reduce immune function in humans .
- It is linked to higher BMIs in adults .
- It can make its way into human breast milk . The impact on young babies in not known at the moment.
- It is considered “possibly toxic” to reproductive and developmental health in humans  based on evidence from animal studies. So far, human studies have not shown a link though.
- It is a liver tumor promoter in rats and researchers believe that the way in which triclosan causes tumors in rats may be relevant to humans .
- It may affect thyroid function in humans .
- It reduces sperm quality and can cause infertility in men .
- It can have environmental effects that can cause harm to aquatic life. It was found to be toxic to algae  and river biofilms .
Sounds like a lot of risks to take! Not only does it have a potential impact on our health, but it also affects the environment.
I heard triclosan is being discontinued in some products? Is that true?
Yes, over the last few years, many soap manufacturers have started to slowly discontinue the use of triclosan in their products or at least offer customers “triclosan-free” products. This has been mainly due to new FDA rules.
In December 2013, the US FDA proposed a rule stating that manufacturers need to provide data to show that antibacterial soap is more effective than plain soap or water . In the years after that, a number of studies came out that showed that antibacterial soap was NO BETTER than regular soap and water [13,14] . We were duped for so long! We were using antibac soaps for no reason.
Now that it’s been proven that triclosan in soaps doesn’t really help and might have adverse effects, it’s being discontinued in a lot of soap products. So that raises the question – if it’s not good for us in soaps, then why is it still in toothpaste?
But first, which toothpastes contain triclosan?
So here’s the deal – only one toothpaste in North America (that I know of) has triclosan. It’s Colgate Total. Colgate firmly believes that triclosan is safe and that there is no evidence to show that it can harm humans, so they don’t plan to take it out of their products just yet. So why is triclosan in toothpaste in the first place?
What are the benefits of adding it to toothpaste?
Triclosan in Colgate Total has been clinically proven to be an effective ingredient to control plaque and gingivitis [15,16,17]. I wasn’t able to find the source of funding for these studies, so I can’t say how impartial the conclusions are. However, what I can say is that even if there are proven benefits of using triclosan in toothpaste, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the risks.
Colgate believes that the amount of triclosan in their toothpaste is very small and it won’t have any adverse health effects. Maybe that is the case, but is it worth the risk, especially since there are other alternatives to controlling plaque and gingivitis? In one small study, it was shown that herbal toothpaste controlled plaque better than Colgate Total . Yes, it is just one study, but it is promising. There must be better solutions out there to control your plaque that don’t have many risks.
What’s the verdict? Yay or nay?
Big nay! So it’s correct to say that the evidence against triclosan isn’t substantial and some of it is not conclusive or even applicable to humans. However, there is enough research (above) for me to think twice about using it. Until concrete evidence is published, I’m playing it safe and using the precautionary approach:
When in doubt, go without.
Time for me to find a safer toothpaste (that my hubby will also enjoy)!
If you have any recommendations, leave them in a comment. Would love to see what works for you.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
- Triclosan is an antibacterial found in many products such as soaps and toothpaste.
- It is a controversial ingredient and the EU has proposed a ban on it in certain products.
- It can still be found in Colgate Total toothpaste in certain countries like the US and Canada. While triclosan in toothpaste is clinically shown to reduce gum disease, it does have potential negative effects on our health and environment.
- Scientific research shows that it can reduce immune function, increase body weight and reduce fertility – yikes!
- Avoid triclosan if you want to err on the side of caution. Play it safe people!