Should I avoid products that contain triclosan?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

The answer is maybe.

In 2016 the Food and Drug Administration issued a rule under which over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing the majority of the antibacterial active ingredients — including triclosan and triclocarban — can no longer be marketed to consumers. These products include liquid, foam and gel hand soaps, bar soaps and body washes.

Although triclosan is also added to certain clothes, cookware, furniture and toys to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, these products aren't regulated by the FDA.

The ruling follows recent studies that have raised questions about whether triclosan is hazardous to human health. Research has shown that triclosan:

  • Alters hormone regulation in animals
  • Might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs
  • Might be harmful to the immune system

When you use a product containing triclosan, you can absorb a small amount through your skin or mouth. A 2008 study, which was designed to assess exposure to triclosan in a representative sample of U.S. children and adults, found triclosan in the urine of nearly 75 percent of those tested.

Triclosan isn't an essential ingredient in many products. While triclosan added to toothpaste has been shown to help prevent gingivitis, there's no evidence that antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain illnesses, according to the FDA. It's also uncertain whether this ingredient is safe for long-term daily use.

While many manufacturers have started removing this ingredient from their products, if you're concerned about triclosan, look for products that don't list triclosan in their ingredients.

Sept. 21, 2016 See more Expert Answers