A FEW YEARS AGO, THE SOAP AND PERFUME STORE Bath and Body Works came out with a new line of “Summertime Scent” hand soaps. Their slogan was “spread love, not germs,” and the soaps came in fun, bright colors and scents, such as “Tangelo Orange
Twist” and “Sugar Lemon Fizz.” Their potential customers were teens.
But an ingredient that had been added to their new soaps to make
them antibacterial, triclosan, attracted some attention the company
didn’t expect—or want. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the
Center for Environmental Health sent alerts to thousands of their supporters, urging them to demand Bath and Body Works remove triclosan from their soaps.
Results from a number of animal studies (discussed in more detail
below) have led more than 150 nonprofit organizations to call for a ban
on triclosan due to concern about its health effects, particularly
in teenagers, and thousands of people have pledged
to boycott triclosan-containing products. This
is not easy, because triclosan is found
in so many items: toothpaste, soap,
cosmetics, clothing, toys, and even
furniture. But as a result of the public
outcry, many large corporations are
voluntarily removing the chemical from
their products. By spring 2014, Bath
and Body Works took heed and launched
a triclosan-free line of soaps. So, what is
triclosan, and is it really that harmful?
Is triclosan too good to be true?
When we use triclosan-containing products, we absorb the chemical
via our gastrointestinal tracts, mouths, and skin. After being absorbed,
triclosan is eliminated from our bodies within 24 hours; it does not
appear to accumulate in our tissues. However, studies in the United
States have found the chemical in urine, serum, and breast milk,
indicating recent exposure.
For example, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention ( http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Triclosan_FactSheet.
html) found that 75% of U.S. adults have triclosan in their urine. In
another study of 20 U.S. teenagers, carried out by the Environmental
Working Group ( http://www.ewg.org/research/teen-girls-body-burden-hormone-altering-cosmetics-chemicals/detailed-findings), all of them
had been exposed to triclosan.
People who use Colgate Total and healthcare workers who
use triclosan-containing soaps have especially high
levels of exposure. But even individuals who do
not report using triclosan-containing products
have detectable levels of the chemical in
their urine. So, many of us are exposed to
Some scientists worry that triclosan
might be doing its job a little too well—in
addition to killing harmful bacteria, it may
also be killing beneficial bacteria, some of which
The “Drug Facts” label on this hand soap shows that triclosan
is the active ingredient.
But Is It Safe?
By Kristin Harper