OPINION: Antibacterial soap must be regulated


Brennan Tucker

Since 1969, triclosan (a “whitish crystalline powder C12H7Cl3O2 used especially as a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent,” according to Webster’s Dictionary) has been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency for usage in the United States. Since then, its use has grown and is now found in 93% of liquid antibacterial soaps, and is also found in some toothpastes. Triclosan could be found in most households, and is used on a daily basis. However, studies show that this common chemical could be doing more harm than good (if it does any good at all).

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, triclosan is not currently known to be harmful in humans; however, research has shown that it causes harm in animals, such as reduced sperm production in mice, and alters hormone regulation. An article published in Toxicological Sciences by Leah M. Zorrilla, Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, North Carolina State University, shows evidence that triclosan greatly changes thyroid activity in rats, an effect that may hold true in humans as well.

While not all experiments on animals hold true for humans, these concerning results should be enough to cause questioning of the safety of triclosan.

In addition to potentially being harmful to humans, triclosan could be harmful to the environment. If this pesticide is being used in soaps and toothpastes, that means it is being rinsed with water and will eventually end up in rivers and oceans, where it will affect plant and animal life. The effects that triclosan had on mice during experiments will occur in fish and other aquatic life.

With all of the harm that triclosan could potentially do to humans and the environment, one would think that there must be an advantage to this pesticide being used so widely. However, this is not the case. While useful in toothpaste for preventing gingivitis, according to the FDA, there is currently no evidence that it is beneficial in antibacterial soap, and is no more useful that washing hands with regular soap and water. Consequently, there are essentially no tangible benefits to using triclosan, and and several potential consequences.

Clearly, antibacterial soap that contains triclosan should be banned, or at the very least, regulated much more carefully. In fact, Minnesota has recently become the first state to ban soaps containing triclosan due to the potential harm it could cause. Said law will come into effect January 1, 2017.

In addition, in December 2013, the FDA proposed a rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial products to prove that their products are safe for long term use. The statement released at the time said, “Millions of Americans use antibacterial hand soap and body wash products. Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. The widespread consumer use of antibacterial products, the accumulated scientific information and concerns raised by health care and consumer groups have prompted the FDA to reevaluate what data are needed to classify the active ingredients in consumer antibacterial products as ‘generally recognized as safe and effective’ or GRASE.”

While one can only hope that a similar law be passed in our own state, there is something that individuals can do: stop using antibacterial soaps. Though not everyone will quit washing their hands with antibacterial soap, you can help keep yourself from being affected by triclosan and do your part to help the environment. Obviously, however, one cannot avoid antibacterial soap altogether, especially when they often use public restrooms. Therefore, in addition to stopping using antibacterial soaps containing triclosan, you should take action to ban it altogether by contacting your representative and letting your voice be heard.