When a GRAS status changes – Triclosan
What happens when an ingredient is no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS)? In this post, we’ll explore triclosan.
July 29, 2019 - Author: Elisabeth Anderson
What happens when an ingredient is no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS)? In this post, we’ll explore triclosan, an ingredient that was found in numerous personal care products like hand sanitizer, toothpaste, soaps, cleaning products, and more.
What is triclosan?
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent once found in many personal care products like hand sanitizer, toothpaste, soap, and more. This ingredient prevents bacterial growth when it comes into contact with potential contaminates by inhibiting the cell’s ability to synthesis necessary fatty acids.
Why is triclosan no longer considered safe?
Antibacterial compounds are unable to differentiate between healthful and harmful bacteria. This means products containing triclosan indiscriminately damage all bacteria, even the good bacteria that help humans cultivate a healthy gut microbe and help prevent allergies.
While we can kill bacteria, bacteria are not easily deterred. Bacteria can mutate and evolve quickly, very quickly. In fact, within 10 hours, a bacteria population can accumulate 300 mutations! One of those mutations could result in a triclosan-resistant bacterium that then grows into a harmful bacteria colony that requires stronger antibacterial agents to kill the colony. As this pattern repeats, we can end up with antibiotic-resistant microorganisms that do not respond to our current medications and best practices.
Using antibacterial compounds can be worth the risk when used in medical situations under a physician’s care. However, numerous studies show that using antibacterial agents, including triclosan in everyday products, might cause more harm than good, making the use of triclosan not worth the risk. Through extensive studies, it was determined that traditional antibacterial agent-free soap work as effectively as soap containing triclosan.
After evaluating the risks based on the currently available science, the U.S. FDA determined triclosan did not meet the requirements to be considered a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredient and the U.S. FDA removed it from the GRAS list. This change required companies to remove triclosan from everyday personal care products such as soap, lotion, hand sanitizer, and more.
Does triclosan harm the environment?
Triclosan is used as a pesticide and is currently under review by the U.S. EPA to determine safety. This is part of a 15-year cycle to reevaluate ingredients and their impact on the environment. Some studies point to triclosan causing damage to the environment via wastewater; however, more studies and evaluations are required before the U.S. EPA makes a final decision on the ingredient. Per the current schedule, there should be a proposed decision by the end of 2019.
Is triclosan still in use?
Triclosan use still occurs in medical settings under the supervision of physicians and researchers, in agricultural production, and in household items such as kitchen utensils, furniture, toys, and more.
While this ingredient is not available in the U.S. for personal care products, in other parts of the world, triclosan is still considered safe for use and is available in many personal care products, such as mouthwashes.
As more information about this ingredient emerges, we will update this post.