Triclosan [trik-loh-san] is an antibacterial and antifungal agent found in consumer products, including toothpaste, soaps, detergents, toys, and surgical cleaning treatments. In 2016, the FDA announced that effective September 2017, it would prohibit the sale of ‘consumer antiseptic washes’ containing triclosan or 18 other ingredients marketed as antimicrobials due to the FDA’s findings of the lack of efficacy in these products.
Despite being used in many consumer products, beyond its use in toothpaste to prevent gingivitis, there is no evidence according to the FDA that triclosan provides an extra benefit to health in other consumer products. A comprehensive analysis from the University of Michigan School of Public Health indicated that plain soaps are just as effective as consumer-grade antibacterial soaps with triclosan in preventing illness and removing bacteria from the hands.
Triclosan has been used since 1972, and it is present in soaps (0.10-1.00%). It is also a component in some pesticides, mattresses, insulation, and underlayments that install under various types of flooring, including laminate, wood, glued down, and engineered wood, and carpeting for the purpose of slowing or stopping the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew. For example, some high density sound-suppressing underlayments, foam floor underlayments and rebond carpet pads are treated with triclosan. Triclosan has been shown to be effective in reducing and controlling bacterial contamination on the hands and on treated products. More recently, showering or bathing with 2% triclosan has become a recommended regimen for the decolonization of patients whose skin is carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
During wastewater treatment, a portion of triclosan is degraded, while the remaining adsorbs to sewage sludge or exits the plant in wastewater effluent. In the environment, triclosan may be degraded by microorganisms or react with sunlight, forming other compounds. Triclosan was found in Swiss sediment that was over 30 years old, suggesting that triclosan is degraded or removed slowly in sediment. An article coauthored by Dr. Stuart Levy in a 1998 issue of ‘Nature’ warned that triclosan’s overuse could cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop, in much the same way that antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains are emerging.
In 2003, some UK supermarkets and other retailers were considering phasing out products containing triclosan. Some level of triclosan resistance can occur in some microorganisms, but the larger concern is with the potential for cross-resistance or co-resistance to other antimicrobials. A 2010 study linked triclosan usage in children with the development of allergies, suggesting that children with higher exposure to triclosan are more frequently diagnosed with allergies as related to the Hygiene Theory and not toxicology of the triclosan itself.