Triclosan is a synthetic chemical used as an anti-bacterial agent in deodorants, cleansers, hand sanitizers, toothpaste, laundry detergent and household products that are sometimes advertised as “anti-bacterial”. It can also be found in toys, kitchenware, clothing and paints. The first products are regulated by the FDA, the latter ones aren´t. It is very hard to know whether these latter products contain triclosan, since the manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals they contain. Some products that are marketed as antimicrobial might contain triclosan, but not all products that contain antimicrobial chemicals are advertised as such.
Short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan (and triclocarban, an antibacterial chemical with a structure and function similar to triclosan) is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones and a disruption of estrogen-mediated responses. Other animal studies found an impairment of muscle function and skeletal muscle contractility. Not only is triclosan potentially harmful for humans, it is also very resilient and can survive water treatment, building up in the environment and contaminating water and fragile aquatic ecosystems.
In September of 2016 he FDA issued a rule banning the use of triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes because of concern that it is neither safe nor effective, but it can still be found in many other products, like some toothpastes, plush toys and cutting boards. The European Union classifies triclosan as irritating to the skin and eyes, and as very toxic to aquatic organisms. Since it is lipophilic, meaning it can bioaccumulate in fatty tissues for long periods of time, it has been detected in breast milk, blood and urine samples.
Triclosan can enter the body through the skin and mouth and is a known endocrine disruptor and a suspected carcinogen. The extensive use of triclosan in consumer products has been such a success thanks to the false public perception that antibacterial products are best to protect and safeguard against potential harmful bacteria. However, there is no evidence that use of antimicrobial products, like the ones containing triclosan, have any health benefits over plain soaps. To the contrary, without adequate exposure to the right microbes, children may be at a higher risk of developing allergies and asthma and the extensive use of triclosan may have contributed to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.