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Monday, August 22, 2011

Triclosan - Or are Antibacterial Soaps Necessary?

 this post is part of an ongoing series of Toxins to Avoid 


Why Triclosan?
So you may be asking yourself, why do you need to concern yourself with triclosan ? With Back to School season here, many schools, pre-schools, and even day cares ask for or use hand sanitizer on a regular basis. Friends of mine are adamant against the use of hand sanitizer. So I decided to look into the reasons behind this one my own.  The FDA and EPA are and have been looking into the safety and the efficacy of the triclosan for several years now.

What is Triclosan?
Surprisingly, at least to me it has been around since 1972, and has become the most widely used antibacterial ingredient in soaps and personal products. It can be particular useful in medical situations. Triclosan is actually a pesticide that is used like antibacterial and antifungal agents. It is similar to antibiotics in many ways  but unlike antibiotics it’s purpose is to stop the transmission of bacteria to a healthy person. Like most antibiotics , does not kill 100% of all bacteria because of this some strains of bacteria end up becoming antibiotic resistant.
Originally, triclosan was developed for use in medical settings, but since 1972, triclosan has been added to a long list of products. According to the CDC  Only a few years ago there were only a few dozen products containing antibacterial agents were being marketed for the home. Now more than 700 are available and it is a $750 million market just in the United States alone. Triclosan is now found in household cleaners, soaps, toothpaste, dishwashing hand lotions, children’s toys and of course hand sanitizers. 
The Problems with Triclosan

  • The most common ailments that we are trying to avoid, the common cold and the flu are viruses. Viruses Do NOT respond to antibacterial  products. Doctors recommend frequent hand washing with soap and water.
  • The dread stomach bug, schools and daycares run rampant with them. We had one strike our house just last week. Most stomach bugs are viral, therefore antibiotic chemicals are no more likely than regular soap to prevent gastrointestinal illnesses. In fact, in one Pakistani study, people who washed their hands with plain soap and water were able to reduce the incidence of childhood diarrhea by 53 percent. Those who used antibiotic soap containing 1.2 percent triclocarban actually experienced slightly higher incidence of illness.
  • Triclosan is toxic to aquatic wildlife. So, the fact that it is in our rivers and lakes means that it is polluting and affecting those ecosystems, and the plant and animal life found there.
  • Triclosan is fat soluble.  Since it has turned up in water supplies it is possible it could turn up in our food chain.
  • Several lab studies have shown that triclosan may alter hormone regulation in laboratory animals.
  • In order for triclosan to work effectively it needs to be left on a surface for about two minutes.  I know that in my family the last time I washed my hands for more than 2 minutes was when my oldest was in the NICU.  I know for a fact that my son does a simple rinse and shake method.  Most people are not this patient, and end up washing off the soap before the antibacterial ingredients can do their job.

Options to Triclosan


Believe it or not,  according to the AMA (American Medical Association) recommends using plain  soap and water.  Hand Sanitizers and Antibacterial soaps are no more effective at preventing common illnesses such as the cold and the flu.  These common ailments are caused by viruses not bacteria. Studies importance-handwashingshow plain soap is as effective as Triclosan. A 2008 meta-analysis of all the experimental studies published in English between 1980 and 2006 on the effectiveness of different hand washing techniques to combat gastrointestinal- and respiratory illness concluded that non-bacterial soap was effective for preventing both gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, and that triclosan-containing soaps and wipes had no apparent advantage over plain soap in this regard.

I personally do not use antibiotic soaps at home. My husband and I never bought into the marketing hype behind it. We use a plain soap to wash our hands. When possible I buy a natural soap. Dr. Bronner’s makes a bar as well as liquid soaps.  I know some people are squeamish about bar soap these days but here is the kicker, you don’t even need soap to effectively clean your hands.  Proper Hand Washing Techniques are what clean your hands and rid them of germs.  When we are out and about I will simply use water to wash my hands. If I need to sanitize a cut or scrap we use tea tree oil.

Keeping Your Home Clean Without Chemical Disinfectants

Antibiotic cleaners are not any more effective at reducing illnesses in the home. In fact the CDC recommends against using antibacterial cleaners if anyone in your house suffers from a chronic illness such as asthma, or diabetes. Plain soap is effective in cleaning the house. Up to 20 years ago that is all we had, there were no antibiotic cleaners marketed for the home.
  • Make your own cleaners from vinegar and essential oils. Vinegar has been used since medieval ages when Nuns treating victims of the Bubonic plague would wash their hands with it. These nuns never contracted nor passed on the plague to others. It has a great track record and has been my cleaner of choice since I got married.
  • Combine that vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide for more effectiveness.  You will need to put each one in a separate spray bottle and hydrogen peroxide needs to be in a dark opaque bottle so as not to let light into it. I have found bottles like this at the dollar store. Spray the surface with first one than the other.  In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, pairing the two mists killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making this spray combination more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.
    The best results came from using one mist right after the other—it's 10 times more effective than using either spray by itself and more effective than mixing the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in one sprayer. As an added bonus aside from the health benefits, using this type of natural homemade cleanser is much less expensive than commercial varieties.
  • Sunlight is a great disinfectant. Line drying your clothes will help kill any bacteria left over. Additionally for a heavily soiled load (such as one from kids playing outside or mom gardening), I like to add a little vinegar to the load. Line drying your clothes has so many more benefits than disinfecting too.
My recommendations, use soap and water to wash your hands, using proper hand washing techniques. Put the bar in a soap holder that elevates it so it can thoroughly dry. When away from home and you need to wash your hands simple washing with just water will suffice in most cases. Avoid antibacterial products like the plague. If you do not want to make your own cleaners there are many fine products out there that do not include triclosan or other antibacterial agents.  Check your toothpaste. Most of us do not need triclosan in our toothpastes. Unless your dentist recommends it stay away from tooth pastes such as Colgate Total that contain triclosan. Remember to read your labels.
additional resources
Beyond Pesticides
List of products that do not contain Tricolsan

I am sharing this blog post with my good friends over at Green and Natural Mama Thursday

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faith love and joy said...

I've always said nothing wrong with good old fashioned soap and water.

if your out and about and can't get to soap and water it's fine in small doses to use hand santizer I think.

great article.

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

So true, Faith Love and Joy, soap and water are still our best options, and if you can't get to soap and water then perhaps hand sanitizer. There are some brands available without Triclosan. I believe I saw some at Whole Foods the other day.

Devouring the Seasons said...

Recently realized there's triclosan in my son's favorite toothpaste. This stuff is EVERYWHERE! Can I cry now?

~ Angela

Dwija {House Unseen} said...

For anyone worried about cleaning hands when out and about- I carry baby wipes in the car. If no soap and water is handy, I use baby wipes for hands instead!

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

Angela, yes tricolsan is in many products. No crying though, we can't change what we did not know we can only change what we know now.

faith love and joy said...

Baby Wipes are great!!!!!

Brenna @ Almost All The Truth said...

Great post about triclosan! It is in a lot of things (and on a lot of things as Microban), but if we all start educating ourselves with this information we can begin to make a difference!

Good Girl Gone Green said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing. I use vinegar and water to clean everything in the house. I do use a hand sanitizer on occasion but it doesn't contain tricolsan or any chemicals. I use it for example after I touch a receipt from a store (contains BPA) and absolutely have to pick ny daughter up. I use it! :)

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

Absolutely, you want to stay away from those receipts. I always have the cashier put mine in a bag, in case I need it later. I did see some hand sanitizer w/out triclsan the other day but did not pick it up. I think I will have to pick some up next time I am out and about.

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

Excellent post! This is just so frightening, and I hate that so many people turn a blind eye to it. Thank you for sharing this very important information and for linking up at Green & Natural Mamas Thursday!

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

Charise, before I researched this topic I had no idea about Triclosan. I thought the only concern was the amount of alcohol in hand sanitizer. It is amazing what we learn on our journey to more natural living.

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