Triclosan is a chemical that was developed in the 1960s that was designed to kill bacteria. Because it is so effective at this, it became ubiquitous in hand and body washes, antimicrobial soaps, foot and body sprays, personal care products (including face and body lotions), shaving products, makeup, and toothpaste.
However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that triclosan is also hiding in common household products and even clothing and other apparel. But it doesn't stop there. Triclosan may also be present in places you might never suspect: water dispensers, napkins, food-storage containers, condiment containers, aprons, serving utensils, cutting boards, kitchen countertops, tabletops, sponges, and garbage cans and liners/bags. In addition to food-related items, triclosan may be lurking in your furniture, mattress, blankets, and bathtub. Where else? How about garden mulch, exercise equipment, playground equipment, ropes, tents, tarps, HVAC coils, antimicrobial socks, and ice-making equipment. In short, it's everywhere. In fact, it's virtually impossible to avoid exposure to triclosan if you live in the modern world.
Why is triclosan important? This chemical doesn't just kill microbes on the surface of clothing and other items or on the exterior of our bodies. It enters our bodies through dermal absorption and through our mouths (look above at all the ways we are exposed to it simply in the kitchen) and our mucous membranes. And once it's in our bodies, it continues killing microbes, which can lead to a serious imbalance in gut bacteria known as dysbiosis.
Triclosan is found in the bodies of nearly all Americans, where it wreaks hormonal havoc, causes antibiotic resistance, increases sensitivity to allergens, and is suspected as a cause of or contributor to numerous other health conditions. It's also one of the worst endocrine disruptors known to date. On September 6, 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned triclosan and other antibacterial ingredients in hand and body washes after a growing body of scientific evidence showed that it was related to physiological and environmental concerns and that it is neither safe nor effective. Yet triclosan may still be found in hundreds of other everyday items that we're exposed to on a regular basis.
According to the EWG: "Triclosan is still used in products such as acne treatments, body washes, Colgate Total toothpaste, and some antibacterial dish soaps. It is also added to many other products, including fabrics and plastic items marketed as 'germ-killing' or 'antibacterial,' though it is not listed on their labels." EWG recommends that consumers avoid purchasing products with antibacterial treatments whenever possible.
A recent study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst reveals that triclosan increases inflammation of the gut, specifically in relation to inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and colon cancer. Because triclosan annihilates the good microbes in the gut and initiates inflammation, it can make these intestinal disorders significantly worse. In addition, sanitizing with antibacterials could make you more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues by causing the intestinal epithelial cells to have abnormal changes to microvilli, which aid nutrient absorption.
When triclosan reacts with sunlight, it becomes dioxin, a potent carcinogen, which is especially problematic considering that triclosan routinely turns up in water samples. Studies show that triclosan is present in nearly 60 percent of streams and rivers in the United States. It not only harms human health, but it also damages aquatic animals and plant life, kills algae, and alters the hormones and sex of fish.
It's difficult to limit exposure to triclosan because it's essentially everywhere. Wastewater treatment plants can't remove it from our drinking water, and it's persistent in the environment, which means there's no way to get rid of it. The best alternative and only solution at this time is to eliminate using products that you know include triclosan. Avoid using antimicrobial soaps, shaving creams, or toothpastes that contain triclosan. Contact manufacturers directly if you aren't sure whether your favorite products contain it. And don't dispose of triclosan-containing products by pouring them down the sink or flushing them down the toilet, as doing so will only further contribute to the water-supply problems. Instead, dispose of them in the garbage.
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