In the last decade the use of the antibacterial agent triclosan in personal care products has skyrocketed. While triclosan has been around since the late 1960s, it is only in the last few years that this chemical has come out of the hospital environment and entered the domestic one under the false pretence of protecting us and our kids from unwanted bacteria.
These days three quarters of all liquid hand-soaps contain this chemical, not to mention body washes, anti-bacterial wipes and gels, shampoos, toothpastes, anti-acne creams and household products. But is triclosan safe? And more importantly, is it beneficial to expose ourselves to regular anti-bacterial agents? The short answer is NO.
Triclosan and allergies
Triclosan use has been linked to allergies, including hayfever and peanut allergies.
A recent Norwegian study looking at 623 children from birth to age ten, found that those who tested positive for respiratory allergy either via skin prick test or serum IgE had the highest levels of triclosan in their urine (1).
Scientists think that the mechanism behind the allergy is that triclosan causes a change in the gut microbiome. After washing your hands with triclosan, its antibacterial action lasts for as long as 8 hours. While triclosan’s absorption through the skin is minimal, scientists believe that it’s being absorbed through the oral mucosa when children suck their hands. As triclosan is particularly active against gram-negative bacteria, it ends up causing dysbiosis or imbalanced microbiome in the gut, which then triggers a faulty immune response.
Impact of triclosan on antibiotic resistance
Another concerning issue has also arisen in recent years with regards to the link between triclosan and antibiotic resistance.
Triclosan resistance is already a well-documented phenomenon in the scientific literature. Since the year 2000, several studies and reviews have verified triclosan-resistance in skin, gut and environmental microbes including the dreaded MRSA strain of Staph aureus (5) (6).
A more pressing concern is that microbial resistance to triclosan may directly affect resistance to other antibiotics. Preliminary evidence is currently available for certain strains of Salmonella and E coli (7) (8).
This is a serious matter as antibiotic resistance is one of the fastest-rising health issues worldwide. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 2 million people each year contract an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the US and that at least 23,000 people die from the infection. These figures are increasing yearly (9)(10).
We are at tipping point when it comes to microbial resistance as bacteria are known to pass on the antibiotic resistant genes to their offspring as well as other types of bacteria. No one really knows how far this problem has gone and whether we’ve gone beyond the point of no return, meaning the next big global infection could kill millions.
The single, biggest contribution you can make is to stop using all anti-microbial products and limit antibiotic use to when it is absolutely necessary.
Triclosan not effective at preventing common infections
While you may think that using antibacterial gels, wipes and soaps is a really good idea there is actually little evidence to justfy the use of triclosan in household soaps. In fact, it turns out that ordinary soap and water work just as well when it comes to infection control in the home. This is because triclosan only targets bacteria and not viruses, the most common cause of upper respiratory infections.