Yesterday, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics issued a press release titled, ‘Toxic Pesticide in Summertime Soaps‘. I’m no longer surprised or shocked by anything that comes from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, or the EWG, for that matter.
The first three paragraphs read as follows:
(San Francisco) Today health and environmental groups urged retailer Bath & Body Works to stop selling its line of “summertime scent” soaps that contain triclosan, a toxic chemical categorized as a pesticide because of its antimicrobial properties. The line, which includes products with names like “Tangelo Orange Twist” and “Sugar Lemon Fizz,” is marketed to teens using the slogan “spread love, not germs.” Advocates are concerned that this toxic chemical, which has been linked to hormone disruption, is particularly hazardous to teens whose bodies are still developing.
Triclosan has also been linked to the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics and antibacterial products. Along with its negative health effects, triclosan also impacts the environment, ending up in lakes, rivers and other water sources, where it is toxic to aquatic life. Despite its widespread use as a germ-killer in consumer products, triclosan is no more effective than soap and water at preventing illness or eliminating germs, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, is currently updating its 2008 assessment of triclosan based on new science showing thyroid and estrogen effects.
“A chemical like triclosan that can disrupt hormones and may affect fetal growth and development does not belong in our soap,” said Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, “especially since studies show that triclosan is no more effective at preventing illness or removing germs than soap and water.”
It’s only appropriate that Personal Care Truth tackles the fear mongering, and scare tactics the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are using to convince consumers that Triclosan is a pesticide. Our very own Colin Sanders felt compelled to provide the following to clear things up.
Triclosan is Not a Pesticide
Sorry Stacey, Triclosan is not a pesticide, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are not environmental campaiginers. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics led by the rarely right Stacey Malkin are currently campaigining against triclosan. As it happens, I have opposed the use of triclosan in cosmetic products for rather longer than they have. I have criticised on my blog and I have done so directly to influential government advisors.
So for once I have a common aim with the Campaign of Safe Cosmetics. But this doesn¹t make me happy with their campaign, not one bit of it. For a start they refer to triclosan as a pesticide. They must know this is not correct. So why do they do it? The only explanation I can come up with is that they think that pesticide sounds worse than antibacterial.
Now as it happens triclosan does share the same problem that many of the early pesticides suffered from. It is persistant, can be stored in fat tissues and has low toxicity. Low toxicity is a problem from an environmental point of view. It means that bacteria can very easily develop resistance to it.
So in a world with more and more people who are getting richer and richer, the use of triclosan is likely to increase. Anyone who cares about the planet and the well being of their fellow humans will want to keep an eye on this molecule. There are two risks. It might accumulate in the environment somewhere to pose a toxic risk – probably to wildlife rather than humans, but that is bad enough. And it may become so widespread that bacteria everywhere develop resistance rendering it useless. In a more crowded and more interconnected world there is every chance the day will come when we need an antibacterial as safe as triclosan in our arsenal.
So what is wrong with what the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic’s activity? Basically they get the facts totally wrong and the tactics wrong. They are inviting their supporters to target one particular brand that uses triclosan. It is Bath and Bodyworks as it happens, but it could have been anyone. They are urging people to directly contact the CEO of Bath and Bodyworks and ask him or her to take toxic triclosan out of his or her products to protect consumers from the toxic triclosan. But triclosan isn’t toxic, not in the sense of posing any risk to the people actually using.
Again, I find it hard to believe that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are not very well aware of this. They have read enough of the research to cherry pick the bits that can be made to sound alarming. And they pick up on things that can only be intended to provoke a reaction. For example they say that triclosan is linked to the rise of “superbugs” – antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But it isn’t. Exposure to triclosan only induces resistance to triclosan, not to antibiotics. In fact one of the key reasons I believe triclosan use should be restricted is because it is an alternative to antibiotics and can be deployed to clear up anitbiotic resistant bacteria. Superbug sounds scary, but it really is a figment of the imagination.
And even if they can get one company to stop using there are thousands of others out there who will carry on. In fact the best that can be hoped for from this targeting of one individual company is that they succeed in transferring their customers to another brand. Triclosan poses a risk to the environment not to consumers. It only makes sense to take your case to the regulators.
But I think the whole thrust is not just a bit misguided. True activism is about learning, understanding and educating. You can always get attention by saying something frightening. The boy who cried wolf had worked that one out. The real achievement is to raise people’s consciousness. Encouraging people to aras a random CEO with misinformation is a waste of everyone’s time and an insult to their intelligence