Antibacterial soap compound triclosan still under FDA investigation
Antibacterial soaps have become a staple in modern day
personal hygiene, appearing excessively in dispensers and on store
counters. Since the 1970s, triclosan, an organic compound, has been used as an
active antibacterial agent. Recently, however, the scientific community has put
the use of this ingredient into question.
Studies done by two professors from
the University of California-Davis have linked triclosan to skeletal and cardio
muscle failure. It is also reported to impair normal muscle
function in the brain and heart. Triclosan appears in name-brand hygiene
products, including Suave, Old Spice, Avon, Dawn, Palmolive and Gillette.
Gibbs, assistant director of Lafene Health Center, says that triclosan was
introduced into health products for a good reason.
“At first, scientists thought that triclosan added a benefit
to antibacterial products,” Gibbs said. “But now we know that is not the case.”
The Food and Drug Administration now shows that triclosan does not aid antibacterial products in any way. The U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services also has no record of any health effects caused by
“Triclosan is currently under investigation by the FDA,”
Gibbs said. “While it is still under investigation, I would be wary for the
Isaac Pessah, professor of molecular bioscience, and Bruce Hammock, professor of entomology, published a report
of their results after studying the chemical triclosan at University of California-Davis on July 13.
The doctors defined triclosan as “a high-production-volume chemical” that can inhibit cardiac and skeletal muscle in large doses. Triclosan appears as a main or
active ingredient in products such as soaps, toothpastes and other everyday
items like children’s toys and bedding sheets.
While triclosan has been only recently introduced to hygiene
products, the chemical itself has shown up in scientific studies before.
“I’m aware of the use of triclosan as an antibacterial,”
said Lynn Hancock, associate professor of biology. “I’m aware of other studies
about it, but not this one.”
Hancock said that triclosan has been reported in
lakes and streams, as it is not filtered out of water supplies. This may also
be a result of the amount of triclosan already absorbed by humans; triclosan
has appeared in human urine and breast milk. The negative effects of triclosan
were pinpointed by Pessah and Hammock’s study.
“What led to triclosan’s investigation is animal testing,”
Gibbs said. “Those tests showed that it might cause more damage than it does
Pessah and Hammock used mice and fish to test triclosan. Their
report labeled triclosan as a “pollutant of growing concern to human and
Frank Blecha, associate dean of research for the College
of Veterinary Medicine, said that the animal testing of triclosan was probably
as accurate as possible, but the unknown factors still make a difference.
“Scientists go to great lengths to make sure that animals
used in testing are as accurate models as possible,” Blecha said. “Most effects seen in animals will translate to
humans, but not all. It all depends on the model.”
Though the effects of skeletal and muscle impairment did
appear in the animals, triclosan is not considered to be a mass public harm,
“Nothing with triclosan in it is known to be hazardous to
humans,” Gibbs said.
Blecha said that even lab
testing must be measured for all variables.
“You have to look at everything,” Blecha said. “Dosage, body
weight, amount of exposure. All of these things need to be considered.”
Timothy Musch, professor of kinesiology, said that antibacterial
soaps with triclosan would not be on the market now if they were dangerous, but
mistakes can happen.
“Animal lab testing is necessary for any sort of drug or
compound,” Musch said. “The progression is that you start with animals. If
something shows up as toxic, you don’t pursue it. However, sometimes certain things
get approved and later it’s discovered that they have unacceptable human side
Triclosan remains under FDA investigation. Until more
information has been released on triclosan, Gibbs plans to check the labels on
the soaps and toothpastes that she buys.
“It’s always good to be a little cautious,” Gibbs said. “I
always say, ‘Everything in moderation.’”