RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It's a registered pesticide that the U.S. government has approved for use in everything from underpants to toothpaste. But Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally admitted it had some reservations about the widespread use of triclosan, an antimicrobial chemical used in tons of "antibacterial" products, from hand soaps and shaving creams to kitchen countertops and car steering wheels.
THE DETAILS: On the FDA's website, the agency stated that while triclosan hasn't been found to cause instant hazard to people, "several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review." Citing animal research, FDA concedes that the chemical could be a possible endocrine disrupter, which means it interferes with the body's production of hormones, such as those that regulate the thyroid and reproductive systems (in some cases, hormone disruption can lead to a bigger problem like cancer, insulin resistance, or obesity). The FDA also notes that, in most cases, there is insufficient evidence that triclosan provides any health benefits that soap and water can't provide; they do, however, note that in studies on triclosan in antibacterial toothpastes, the ingredient has been found to cut down on cases of gingivitis. Going forward, the FDA will be working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has some authority over uses of triclosan because it is a registered pesticide, to study the effects of the chemical on human, animal, and environmental health.
WHAT IT MEANS: The FDA is finally catching up with other public health and medical advocacy groups, who've been calling for tighter regulation on triclosan for years. As far back as 2000, the American Medical Association issued a statement saying that triclosan and related antimicrobial chemicals should be removed from consumer products. In a report, the agency said, "No data exist to support their efficacy when used in [consumer] products or any need for them, but increasing data now suggest growing acquired resistance to these commonly used antimicrobial agents. Studies also suggest that acquired resistance to these antimicrobials in bacteria may also predispose these organisms to resistance against therapeutic antibiotics."