Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical developed in the 1960s to prevent bacterial infections in hospitals. Since then, it's become a common ingredient in hand soaps, body washes, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. (Here are 7 natural toothpastes that work just as well as the stuff with chemicals.) But, research has shown that over the years, this chemical can actually be harmful. A paper in the National Academy of Sciences indicates that triclosan impairs muscle function in both animals and humans., and researchers have linked the use of triclosan to the impairment of the body's microbiome (it's associated with a rise in allergies, among other things).
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The latest study in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology shows rising triclosan levels in kids based on hand washing and teeth brushing. Researchers tested the urine of 389 mothers and their children and found triclosan in more than 70 percent of the samples. Among 8 year olds, levels were 66 percent higher in those that used hand soap. And more washing left the children with higher loads of triclosan. The same resulted from children who brushed their teeth more often.
Previous studies have shown that the chemical can disrupt the endocrine systems of several different animals and prevent the thyroid hormone from functioning normally. Triclosan enters the bloodstream easily, and has turned up everywhere from water to human breast milk.
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The FDA recently issued a ruling that the ingredient is not safe, which means that triclosan will be phased out of products by September, 2017. The FDA says, "OTC (over the counter) consumer antiseptic wash products (including liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes) containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—will no longer be able to be marketed."
Regular soaps without antibacterial ingredients are more than adequate for eliminating harmful bacteria. “Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Dr. Theresa M. Michele, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products in their release on the subject: “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”
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Right now, triclosan is still on the market in many soaps and in popular brands like Colgate, which says it uses 0.3 percent of the antibacterial to “fight harmful plaque germs" and is currently still allowed to keep triclosan in its products, after arguing that it is benefical for plaque resistance.
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It seems with the new FDA ruling, triclosan is on its way out. But for now? Read the labels next time you're buying bathroom and cleaning products, and you may want to check the ingredients on the soaps, toothpastes, and mouthwashes you already have to make sure the ingredient isn't present. For now here are 3 top-rated hand soaps by the Environmental Working Group (and here's the full list of soaps that do not contain triclosan):
+ Attitude Foaming Hand Soap
+ Sally B's Skin Yummies Hand Soap
+ Nature's Clean Hand Soap
And, you can skip the antibacterial soap altogether—the FDA reports that it's no more useful at cleaning hands than regular soap, and advertising the "antibacterial" properties of the soap on the label is more of a marketing gimmick than a benefit to your health.