Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How Close Is Too Triclosan?!

I had a major and distressing WTF moment yesterday: I discovered triclosan is lurking in my favorite toothpaste. 


What is an antibacterial with questionable health safety doing in something that goes in my mouth?!! Our family has been avoiding triclosan for years after I developed contact dermatitis related to exposure. It's a very effective compound, safe for use on (although not embedded into) surfaces. It should not be used directly on skin, and without question, not in your mouth

I won't even mention the fact that there's no proof triclosan adds any benefit beyond the cleaning power of soap & water. Or get into the issues of our current cultural obsession with environmental sterilization (it's as if bacteria and microbes are the modern man's wolves - kill 'em all to keep us safe!). 

The basic question: is it worth the risk if there is no benefit?? 

Simply put: NO.

Further Discussion
Let me begin by saying that as a scientist, I'm utterly shamed by the willful propagation of a misleading and cavalier attitude toward the safety of exposure to ANYTHING that might cause harmful side effects. Risk/benefit ratios mean something. If the benefit is negligible, no risk is valid. 

I have two main issues with the arguments presented in the recent Time Healthland article

First: the idea that just because you spit out toothpaste doesn't mean you're not getting a dose of whatever's in it. It's like saying it would be perfectly safe to put arsenic in your toothpaste because you don't swallow it anyway. Your mouth is covered in membraneous tissues that are permeable to certain compounds. Compounds get into your system through surface contact in your mouth - just ask anybody who uses chewing tobacco. Data shows that not only does triclosan cross epithelial barriers, it can result in measureable adverse side effects after doing so. 

Second: the idea that the toothpaste contains so little that the exposure level is well below safety limits. Well, that's great if triclosan is in only the toothpaste. It's not. I call it the Acetominophen Effect: you won't overdose with only one product, but it's in everything, and before you know it, you've taken 3-4 times what's safe. Triclosan is in a shocking list of products designed for use directly on skin (see the list here at the US Dept. of Health & Human Services Household Products Database). It's in hand soap, baby wipes, lotions, fabrics and surfaces, and apparently also toothpaste. You have to take all exposure sources into account. 

While strictly true that evidence for allergic immune responses to triclosan is not substantial, there IS evidence for a number of other issues. Shame on TIME Healthland for either misrepresenting Dr. Savage's comments, or on her for such a short-sighted view of exposure-based toxicity. 

No comments:

Post a Comment