What’s in your hand soap? You may be surprised

Lesley Toth
Lesley Toth

My microbiologist friend who works as a water quality technician for a Minnesota county was on to something when she told me more than four years ago that soon we would be noticing something different in our purchases of hand soap and other detergents.

Back then we were both working at a popular lotion and soap retailer and her prediction came while we were routinely familiarizing ourselves with the product ingredients in a new line of soap.

“This stuff is horrible! And it’s in bloody everything!” She exclaimed in her beautiful Irish accent in response to one of the ingredients — triclosan.

Knowing she worked as a water quality biologist at her day job, I took heed of her sage advice: don’t buy anything with this chemical compound, soon it will be illegal anyway.

As she, and every single member of her field, knew then — and have known for quite some time — this compound has been found in drinking water, rivers, streams and lakes and is attributed to fish and other marine life mutations, infertility and a host of other environmental problems.

As an antibacterial and antifungal agent, triclosan can be found in a host of everyday products, including soap, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, mouthwash, detergents and shaving cream. Even though this compound is added to so many products, the Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence that triclosan provides an extra benefit to health beyond its anti-gingivitis effect in toothpaste.

And while it is an effective anti-bacterial, studies that date back as far as 1998 warn that triclosan’s overuse could cause resistant strains of bacteria. A 2010 study found that children who had higher exposure to triclosan had more hay fever. Further research has found that triclosan is toxic to aquatic bacteria an inhibits photosynthesis. Triclosan is also showing up in dolphins near South Carolina and Florida in concentrations known to disrupt hormones, growth, and development in other animals.

In an effort to stem these adverse effects on humans, animals and the environment, this past Monday Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton ordered all state agencies to stop buying products that contain triclosan. Now, state personnel in charge of ordering simple office products will need to do what I’ve been doing the past four years — read labels. While this compound is extremely popular, alternative products that do not contain triclosan are readily available.

Dayton’s order is a welcomed first step in limiting the negative effects of this chemical, but it should not stop there. With the trend of the hand sanitizer replacing good old fashioned hand-washing, this compound is becoming more and more concentrated in our public waters. The next step should be to eliminate this harmful chemical compound from household products all together. If the only helpful affect of triclosan is preventing the gum disease gingivitis, why do we need it in hand soap and shaving cream?

Sure, we could all read more labels and be more mindful of the products we buy, but dolphins and trout don’t have the luxury of “buyer beware” when our chemicals end up in their backyards. And with the list of adverse affects far out-weighing the single health benefit (that could be obtained just as well with proper oral hygiene), it seems beyond time to rethink its usefulness in anything.