Getting Tough on Triclosan?

I understand the FDA is taking another look at triclosan, a component of antibacterial soaps and other products. What’s your view on the safety of this chemical?

– May 4, 2010

In early April of 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would review triclosan, a chemical that in the past the agency has maintained is safe for human use. It is used in products ranging from antibacterial soaps to toothpastes, body washes and some cosmetics, but those are just the ones that the FDA regulates. Today, manufacturers add triclosan to clothing, socks, toys, and cutting boards, among other products, so there’s no doubt that exposure to it is widespread. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, triclosan can be found in the urine of 75 percent of all U.S. residents.

Concerns about triclosan stem from laboratory evidence suggesting that it is an endocrine disrupter. Another issue is whether or not use of products containing it spurs the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing health threat worldwide. The FDA review was a response to inquiries from Massachusetts Congressman Edward J. Markey, a Democrat, who has been pushing for stronger regulation of triclosan and other chemicals shown in lab tests to interfere with the endocrine system. Rep. Markey advocates a ban on triclosan in products designed for children and those that come into contact with foods. According to the Washington Post, other countries, including the members of European Union, have banned or restricted triclosan use.

I have never thought that antibacterial products were necessary except in nursing homes, hospitals, and other healthcare settings where there is a high risk of spreading a known infection from person to person. But there’s no proof that the antibacterial soaps and washes marketed for home use serve any useful purpose. The best way you can protect yourself from any potential health risks presented by triclosan is to avoid the products that contain it. Soap and water do just as good a job of cleansing.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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