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FDA Acknowledges "Valid Concern" Over Triclosan in Antibacterial Soaps


The US Food and Drug Administration is questioning the effectiveness and safety of a common antibacterial chemical called triclosan found in liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, dishwashing liquids, and shaving gels. The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency are teaming together to review recent scientific data as part of the trend toward reevaluating the possible health impacts of chemicals that are in widespread use in the US.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, triclosan is so common in products that it is found in the urine of 75% of the population between the ages of 6 and 65. Recent concerns about the chemical ingredient surround recent information that triclosan can disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates growth and development, and has thyroid and estrogen effects in animals.

Antibacterial soaps and body washes, and toothpastes are considered over-the-counter drugs. If the product contains triclosan, it is mandatory that it be listed as an ingredient on the label, in the Drug Facts box. If a cosmetic contains triclosan, it will be included in the ingredient list on the product label.

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Concerned individuals, such as Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey, would like for the FDA to begin banning the ingredient for any product designed for children or any that comes in contact with food, such as cutting boards.

"The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product -- most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys," Markey said. "It's in our drinking water, it's in our rivers and as a result, it's in our bodies. . . . I don't think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children's toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger."

In antibacterial soaps, the chemical may not even be very effective. In an FDA advisory panel investigation in 2005, no evidence was found that triclosan in antibacterial soaps work any better that regular soap and water. Most consumer hand sanitizers, such as Purell, do not actually use triclosan because alcohol is more effective and safer.

The current stand by the FDA is that the agency does not have enough evidence to suggest a change to consumer products at this time and that it provides a clear benefit in some products – such as in toothpaste to fight gingivitis.

The agency said it planned to publish its findings in spring 2011.