Triclosan Versus Bogus Natural Toothpaste: Extreme Attitudes Towards Lab Molecules
    By Enrico Uva | May 2nd 2012 02:00 AM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    Consider two opposing visions. First imagine a commercial from my childhood: a mother and son running in slow motion in a haze through a field of giant daisies. In each core, instead of the familiar yellow inflorescence, they find a chocolate chip cookie. In this world of pureness and goodness, new, synthesized molecules have no place. When the "all-natural" people hear of any trace of these locust-like invading "chemicals", if they don't run to health food stores, they imagine living in the pristine past in the middle of the woods.

    In the second vision, there are threats everywhere. On every surface, from the doctor's tie to the smartphone, there are  prions, viruses, molds, and bacteria waiting to invade the private boundaries of your body and wreak havoc. But there are superhero-like products out there that simply have to be purchased and squeezed out of their genie bottles, and they will protect you from the creepy world of microorganisms.

    In examining the triclosan saga, I was reminded of how these visions and its exploiters complicate the landscape for those on either side and for everyone in between and also for regulators and other species. Triclosan is one of many molecules that has been difficult to assess medically and ecologically. As with many new and mass-produced molecules, ample research over a long time frame are needed before their impact can be partially understood.

    First made available in the 1970's, triclosan is an antibacterial additive with some antifungal and antiviral properties. Originally, it was used almost exclusively as a surgical scrub, a product especially practical in developing countries where conditions for surgery were not ideal. It works by blocking the active site of an enzyme needed to make a fatty acid component of cell membranes in bacteria. Since humans do not have that particular enzyme, triclosan has long been considered harmless to them, reminiscent of the way penicillin inhibits the synthesis of cell walls in bacteria (human cells have no cell walls).

    A strong inhibitor, triclosan is needed only in small quantities to perform its antibacterial action. Partly because of the molecule-as-superhero concept, the compound has appeared in a myriad consumer products in the United states and Canada including
    cosmetics, soaps, hand-washes, dish-washing products, laundry detergents, toys, cutting boards, kitchen utensils, toothpaste, mouth washes, deodorants, antiperspirants, cosmetics, shaving creams, acne treatment products, hair conditioners, trash bags, socks, undershirts, hot tubs, plastic lawn furniture, sponges, implantable medical devices and pesticides. And, of course, it is still used in surgical scrubs.

    Some of the concerns regarding triclosan have turned out to be alarmist. A 2007
    Virginia Polytechnic and State University study illustrated that in some cases triclosan combined with free chlorine to produce the suspected carcinogen chloroform in amounts up to 40% higher than background levels found in chlorinated tap water. Specifically, the immediate concentration of CHCl3 created when dishwashing soap was mixed with chlorinated water was 15 parts per billion(ppb). Only two hours later did it escalate to 48 ppb. But those levels were produced with a concentration of free chlorine of 84.9 micromoles per liter, which translates to 6.03 mg per L or 50% higher than the maximum residual concentration of chlorine allowed by the EPA. As the authors pointed out, the chloroform-generating reaction's kinetics are such that the reaction is second order overall, and first order with respect to chlorine. Consequently, their concentrations of chloroform were inflated by at least 50%. A subsequent study by Hal and al in the same year revealed that during brushing, toothpaste, at least, released far smaller amounts of chloroform due to short contact time between triclosan (at 0.3% of toothpaste) and actual tap water.

    Meanwhile, with evidence that triclosan in hand sanitizers was no more effective than regular soap, and with concern over the possibility of resistant bacteria evolving, the American Medical Association recommended that triclosan be used only in hospital or health care settings. In 2009 the Canadian Medical Association made a similar recommendation. But soon after, a study
    by Allison E. Aiello and al found little or no correlation between bacterial resistance and triclosan use. They did not, however, completely rule out the possibility that resistance would eventually arise.

    Expectedly, the media focused on selected bits of these developments. After feeling mounting pressure,
    Colgate began removing triclosan from dish detergent, where it was not really needed in the first place.  Making sure that I was aware of alternative names for triclosan (Microban, UltraFresh, Amicor, and BioFresh), I've checked ingredients and noticed it's also gone from Crest toothpaste and from most Colgate varieties but still present in their Total product. The continued use of triclosan in some toothpastes is supported by Environment Canada, which about a month ago (March 30, 2012) issued the following statement. Their conclusions are consistent with the evidence I have presented so far:
    The review concludes that triclosan is not harmful to human health, but in significant amounts can cause harm to the environment. It has been proven to provide health benefits in some products, such as its use in toothpaste to protect against gingivitis.
    Triclosan is also used as a material preservative in the manufacture of textiles, leather, paper, plastic and rubber to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus, and mildew, and to prevent odours.
    The Government also took into consideration concerns that triclosan is linked to antibacterial resistance.  Based on available information, there is no clear link between use of products containing triclosan and antibacterial resistance.
    But someone peddling "all natural toothpaste" was still being interviewed this week on radio shows, going on about chloroform formation. On his California web site, the same person resorts to fear- mongering, hoping that enough purists who are unaware that most commercial toothpaste is also triclosan-free will keep buying his "all natural" toothpaste:
    When's the last time you put a pesticide in your mouth" If you don't use specialty breath freshening products, then the answer may be 'today".
    On a Canadian site, a triclosan-free toothpaste is marketed as "all natural", but the sodium benzoate preservative it contains is synthetic. Titanium oxide is a natural oxide of titanium, but it's purified industrially, and it's in there for cosmetic reasons to render the paste white and opaque. Sodium lauryl sarcosinate is a foaming agent found in shaving cream and shampoo. It's admittedly milder than the usual sodium lauryl sulfate but, like most soap molecules, sodium lauryl sarcosinate is a salt formed by a chemical reaction
    Contains: (Purified) Water, Xylitol, Hydrated silica, Sorbitol, Vegetable glycerin, Natural Spearmint flavor, Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, Calcium glycerophosphate, Calcium lactate gluconate, Titanium dioxide, Cellulose gum, Stevia , Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate (NOT the SLS as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), Sodium benzoate, Aloe Vera Gel, and Parsley Seed Oil.
    As suggested by the Environment Canada statement, overuse of triclosan can indeed have an ecological impact. A literature review by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency highlighted a bioconcentration factor of over 1000 in fish. To complicate matters, at least one transformation product of triclosan, methyl triclosan, is stable in the environment because it becomes fat-soluble, rendering it less likely to photodegrade and more likely to bioaccumulate. Triclosan has been found in one third of bottlenose dolphins tested with concentrations ranging from 0.025 to 0.27 parts per billion. In the lab 0.03 parts per billion disrupts the endocrine system of frogs possibly because of the structural similarity between triclosan(structure on left) and thyroid hormones.
    No methyl triclosan was found in dolphins, but it did show up in marine sediments of Barker Inlet in a 2011 study in Australia. 


    • The distribution of triclosan and methyl triclosan in marine sediments of Barker Inlet, South Australia Milena. Fernandes ,  Ali Shareef ,  Rai Kookana ,  Sam Gaylard ,  Sonja Hoare and Tim Kildea

            J. Environ. Monit., 2011,13, 801-806

    Occurrence of triclosan in plasma of wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and in their environment.Fair PA, Lee HB, Adams J, Darling C, Pacepavicius G, Alaee M, Bossart GD, Henry N, Muir D.

    • In vitro stability of triclosan in dentifrice under simulated use condition Hao Z, Parker B, Knapp M. . Int J Cosmet Sci. 2007 Oct;29(5):353-9.
    • White Paper prepared by The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA)
            January 2011

    • Health and Welfare of Canada
    • Chlorinated Organics by Free-Chlorine-Mediated Oxidation of Triclosan
            K R I S T A L . R U L E , V I R G I N I A R . E B B E T T , A N D P E T E R J . V I K E S L A N D *

    • CBC Marketplace



    Sodium Lauryl Sarkozinate – but for how long?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    It's hard being the cool contrarian kid on the block.  I ranted against triclosan for years and ridiculed helicopter parents with wall-mounted containers of the stuff at their doorways but now if everyone is ridiculing it, I will have to start defending it?

    Maybe now.  You beat me to it.
    I try to go the extra mile to keep an open mind when exploring these issues, which inevitably makes me neither a contrarian nor a defender, maybe just long-winded!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Triclosan has been found in one third of bottlenose dolphins tested with concentrations ranging from 0.025 to 0.27 parts per billion. In the lab 0.03 parts per billion disrupts the endocrine system of frogs possibly because of the structural similarity between triclosan(structure on left) and thyroid hormones.No methyl triclosan was found in dolphins, but it did show up in marine sediments of Barker Inlet in a 2011 study in Australia.  
    Enrico, do you know whether anyone has done a study to see how many parts per billion concentrations of triclosan and methyl triclosan there are in humans around the world and not just in bottle-nosed dolphins? Presumably some scientists somewhere are also checking heavy metal contamination levels in humans, if not they should be. I'm an organ donor along with millions of others in the world presumably, deceased human's donated organs can also be used to test for parts per billion of many contaminants in our environments. The results could be very interesting.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    I've checked for data on triclosan in humans, and except for it showing up in urine, I haven't found anything so far. As far as heavy metal concentration is concerned, there's plenty of data out there.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks Enrico, I can't help also wondering how many parts per billion of of triclosan, which as you have pointed out has a very similar chemical structure to thyroid hormones, is required to disrupt the endocrine systems of humans, and not just the endocrine systems of frogs as proven?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    I dont know of any studies evaluating triclosan's effect on the balance of internal or external normal fora.

    There are a few including this one_
    It's only ineffective when it gets incorporated into polymers.