I try to do most things as naturally as possible around here. I don’t eschew all chemicals, and I do have a pharmaceutical routine that I need to keep up for my own personal health. As my few days in the desert southwest showed me, my allergies are fierce, even in an area that would presume to be “safe” for allergy-prone people like me. But there is one chemical that I have avoided for nearly a decade now: triclosan.
Triclosan is an antibacterial compound that is put in plastics (think: cutting boards), hand soaps (just about all anti-bacterial hand soap has triclosan), and even toothpaste. I know that last one sounds a bit far-fetched, but I promise you, it’s in Colgate Total. Approximately 6% of the population is sensitive to triclosan, specifically in toothpaste. How do I know such a bizarre factoid? If you know me well, you’ve probably guessed that I’m in that random 6% of the population. Colgate Total makes my tongue go numb (literally!) for hours at a time. Ten years ago when I experienced it the first time, I talked to my dentist, who researched it. She came back with the information about the percentage and the inclusion of triclosan in Colgate Total – and advised me not to use it. Sure enough, when I switched toothpastes to a non-triclosan formula, the numbness went away. So this life-long Colgate girl became a Crest convert based on the lack of triclosan in Crest.
Regardless, I began to research triclosan a decade ago and decided back then that we would no longer buy handsoap that included it, and early evidence began trickling in that triclosan might be contributing to bacterial resistance, also known as the creation of SuperBugs. Bleah! The first time I went to Bath & Body Works and tried to find hand soap without triclosan, the clerk there looked at me like I had horns growing from my head – she had never encountered anyone who wanted to avoid the stuff before. So I’ve been preaching an avoidance of triclosan for years.
And now the American Medical Association (AMA) says that there is no evidence triclosan-products are any more effective at stopping infection than good old-fashioned soap and water. Additionally, they raise the spectre of creating SuperBugs with continued use of triclosan.
The FDA has weighed in on the matter – sort of. They determined in 1997 that triclosan helps to fight gingivitis (hence the addition of the compound in to Colgate Total), but they have yet to determine that “triclosan added to antibacterial soaps and body washes provides extra health benefits over soap and water.” The FDA is continuing to investigate claims about triclosan, its safety, and whether or not it will continue to be recommended. This is a substance that stays on skin, can be absorbed through skin, that babies can lick or suck off of their hands, and has been shown to slough off of plastics and other items impregnated with it. Yet, even with evidence that triclosan alters hormone regulation in animals and the fact that it probably doesn’t even kill germs or infection as well as plain soap & water (in other words, why its put in soap in the first place), the FDA doesn’t think that evidence is enough to warrant changing its collective mind about the substance.
As Katie over at Kitchen Stewardship says,
If triclosan was a medicine: “Take this pill, and it won’t do anything, but take it anyway.”
If it was a babysitter: “I don’t actually watch children, but you can pay me to sit at your house for three hours.”
If it was an educational strategy: “There’s no evidence that this helps children read, but we use it anyway.”
Whoa. To my mind, the FDA has shown up a day late and a dollar short, as the expression goes, too many times before. And now they can’t seem to decide what to do about this ubiquitous compound that we ingest and has shown to affect hormone levels in animals. That imbues me with tons of confidence. How ’bout you?
All of this has done nothing except make me absolutely certain that I made the right decision ten years ago. I don’t want to expose my family to this on a regular basis. Do I use plastic cutting boards? Yup. And I wash them in the dishwasher to kill germs. Do I have hand soap at the sinks? Absolutely. And in our son’s bathroom it’s Boraxo, an old-fashioned bar soap with pumice in it from Soaps Gone Buy. It’s strong enough to remove pine sap my son gets on him from climbing trees and doesn’t have anything new-fangled or chemical in it. We also use Fels Naptha soap around here – for laundry, for drying up of poison ivy (yeah, that was last week’s adventure…), and for general spot-removal. It works really well getting brown acrylic paint out of new carpet… ask me how I know this. 😉
My point is, we love soap and use it regularly. But we find that old-fashioned soap that is made from saponified oil works really well – and as the AMA says, is just as effective at killing infection and germs as any newfangled chemical compound that might or might not be dangerous to us. Okay, that last part wasn’t the AMA, but the questions have been raised and I’ve cast my lot on the side of caution.