FAQ: Triclosan and Your Health
FDA Reviewing Antibacterial Chemical Widely Used in Soaps and Body Washes
WebMD News Archive
April 9, 2010 -- With the FDA reviewing the antibacterial chemical
triclosan, widely found in everyday products such as hand soaps, body washes,
toothpastes, cosmetics, toys, clothing, and furniture, should you or shouldn't
you ditch products with this ingredient?
Here are the most frequently asked questions about triclosan, with answers
from experts on both sides of the debate, to help you decide.
Q: What is triclosan?
Triclosan is a chemical added to many products for its antibacterial
Q: How long has it been in use?
''It's been in use for over 40 years," says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for
the Soap and Detergent Association, whose members produce soaps and body
washes. Initially, its use was only in health care settings such as hospitals,
In the last 15 years, triclosan began showing up in consumer hygiene
products, he says.
Q: What prompted the recent FDA investigation of triclosan?
The FDA announcement this week about triclosan was in response to a letter
from Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.
Markey had sent the letter in January, requesting information about the
status of the FDA's ongoing review of triclosan in consumer products.
Markey is concerned and is calling for the FDA to ban the use of triclosan
in personal care products. He wants the Environmental Protection Agency to take
steps, too, such as evaluating the potential of triclosan -- washed down the
drain with personal care product use -- to contaminate drinking water and
contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Q: Where does the FDA stand, for now, on triclosan?
Triclosan ''is not known to be hazardous to humans," according to the FDA
statement issued this week.
In 1997, the FDA reviewed data on triclosan in one specific toothpaste,
Colgate Total, and found that the triclosan in it was effective in preventing
gingivitis, the inflamed gum condition that marks the beginning of periodontal
(Markey has asked the FDA to re-evaluate this approval, as the review was
done before health concerns arose about triclosan.)
As for triclosan added to soaps and body washes, the FDA say there is no
evidence that these products provide any extra health benefits over plain soap
The FDA say it is continuing to review the safety of triclosan in the
products it regulates. It is partnering with the EPA to study the effects on
Q: Why do critics want triclosan banned from consumer products?
"We want it removed because it is ineffective and poses a potential threat
to human health and the environment," Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, a staff scientist
at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells WebMD.
In animal studies, triclosan has been found to interfere with hormones
crucial for normal brain development and function and reproductive system
development and function, Janssen says.