Minnesota has officially become the first state to ban soaps containing triclosan, a once widely used antibacterial chemical that has been proved to “disrupt sex and thyroid hormones and other bodily functions” and which scientists believe can lead to strains of resistant bacteria, according to CBS News. The ban will take effect on Jan. 1.
It turns out triclosan is not just unhealthy for our bodies, but it’s also poisonous to the environment, as researchers at the University of Minnesota found. Their research revealed that triclosan “can break down into potentially harmful dioxins in lakes and rivers.”
Some are saying that Minnesota’s decision is an example of a change that started at a local level, as the North Star State’s decision seems to have inspired a federal ban by the FDA of the toxic chemical; that will be instated in September 2017. “I wanted it to change the national situation with triclosan, and it certainly has contributed to that,” Minnesota state Sen. John Marty told CBS News.
When asked about the federal ban, a spokesperson for the FDA said, “Antibacterial hand and body wash manufacturers did not provide the necessary data to establish safety and effectiveness for the 19 active ingredients addressed in this final rule-making.” Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the statement, “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.” She said that in addition to not being useful, some antibacterial ingredients — not just triclosan — can actually cause harm over time.
Major companies including Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have begin phasing out triclosan. But check your labels: According to CBS News, some products with the harmful ingredient may still be still on shelves if a store hasn’t sold out its entire stock yet. Three suggested replacement chemicals are currently being submitted to the FDA for consideration: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol.
But we’re not in the clear yet. While triclosan is being gradually removed from soaps, the toxic chemical is still present in toothpaste. According to the New York Times, “That’s because the best-selling toothpaste brand, Colgate Total, convinced the FDA that the benefit of triclosan in toothpaste outweighs any risks” and that Colgate Total is actually the only toothpaste brand that still uses the chemical. The brand argues that triclosan is a powerhouse when it comes to fighting gingivitis, plaque, gum disease, and cavities, as an FDA spokesperson told the publication. “Based on scientific evidence, the balance of benefit and risk is favorable for these products,” said the spokesperson.
Colgate got approval to first start using triclosan in 1997, when, according to the Times, “it conducted a comprehensive evaluation of human safety of triclosan as part of its new drug application. The review included ‘carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, eye and skin irritation, and short-term and long-term toxicity.'” Somehow the ingredient passed as something that’s safe to put in your mouth, even though it was originally used by surgeons to sterilize their hands before operating.
As it stands, animal testing has proved that triclosan can disrupt the normal development of the reproductive system and metabolism, the Times says. Regardless, many dentists do not take issue with their patients using toothpaste that contains triclosan. “It’s aimed at preventing gingivitis, so if you’re at risk of that you might consider it,” one dentist told the Times. “But for anyone else, it may do more harm than good.” Another claims that stannous fluoride is a great, effective substitute.
Since Minnesota’s ban of triclosan in soaps starts before the rest of the country, the state will do its part to identify any implementations and communicate that to the FDA. And while many dentists see nothing wrong with using the chemical in toothpastes, the choice is yours.