Triclosan is Not a Pesticide

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

Read more about Triclosan at the sites of  the EPA and FDA

  • Anonymous

    Wonder why they’re picking on B&B Works?

    A pesticide….please. (dripping with sarcasm here)

    • Anonymous

      I’m attempting to read a book written by what once was my favorite author. It’s very difficult to learn to pick your battles and to know when to quit. This author should have ended the series a few books back. Choose wisely, know when to pull back, when to cheer something on, when to continue to push, when to talk, when to be quiet. Activist groups can influence for the better. It doesn’t seem wise to push when it appears you only want to remain relevant.

  • Sarah

    I agree with you for the most part on making evidenced-based decisions. But when it comes to the safety of my family and I, I prefer not to wait for the research to conclude. I’m going to rely on my common sense which tells me that Triclosan is something to avoid. There are alternatives, and it’s been proven no more effective than plain soap and water. So why risk it?

    • Anonymous

      I remember getting irritated one day and just thinking “soap is antibacterial!” and I quit going out of my way to find “antibacterial” soaps. Then when it was said that it could mutate bacteria I really didn’t want it. I just didn’t realize how prevalent it is. Isn’t it in some plastics, too?

  • soapbartender

    According to the EPA, Triclosan was first registered as a pesticide in 1969.

    • Anonymous

      I can’t help but go back to Dr Bronner’s magical drain clogging soap. I love the stuff personally but it has multiple uses: teeth, body, bathroom cleaning, kitchen cleaning…I even cleaned the interior of my car with it, did a great job and the car smelled minty fresh. Many things started out as something else first. Maybe triclosan is a pesticide…at a different concentration. Does it matter?

      • Dene62

        “Pesticide” is far more emotive than “antibacterial” – it matters! Triclosan is not used as an agricultural pesticide, which is what is usually implied by the use of the term “pesticide”.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t know what to say anymore. I feel as though I’m chasing my tail.

  • Mary

    I got this email too, and I don’t like the style they write in. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the EWG were two of the first resources I discovered that made me switch over to natural cosmetics, and I know this is true for lots of other individuals. As I have become more educated, I have started to question their accuracy and understanding of toxicity – however they have helped lots of people realize that many of their personal care products are not safe.

  • friendly Chemist

    Colin the EPA link you provide states twice that triclosan is a pesticide.  why are you arguing that it is not?  Did you read the links you provided?  That may not be its main use, but you cannot deny that it is a registered pesticide, at least on this side of the pond it is

    • Colin

      I didn’t know the EPA even had a registration scheme for pesticides.  That link was added by the site owners and I didn’t notice it until you drew my attention to it.  I don’t think it would be a very good pesticide and I have never heard of it being used for that purpose.  But no, I can’t deny that it was registered as a pesticide in 1969.

      • soapbartender

        ummm…I added the EPA link, and all pesticides have to be registered with the EPA unless every ingredient is on their minimum risk list.

        • Say No 2 H.R.2359

          Triclosan in a cosmetic is no more a pesticide than alcohol in a martini is an antimicrobial.

          Triclosan in a cosmetic is an antimicrobial.  The hazards of triclosan are enough, and they are backed by science. Making the issue about little girls and pesticides – it’s sad when making the front page of magazines or blogs is more important than spreading what could have been an important message — to men in workshops; women washing dishes; health care workers.

  • Anonymous

    What? This is bogus!  Tricosan is most definitely a pesticide.  Unlike the name of this website suggests, this article did not use any facts or science.

    • Colin

      When I wrote it I didn’t realise it had been registered as a pesticide in the sixties.  My apologies for that genuine error, but it hardly affects the point I am making.  I don’t believe it has ever been used as a pesticide.  Describing it as a pesticide makes it sound much scarier than it really is.

      • Adam McPherson

        Thank you for the apology. Although, I do not believe that I am deserving of it but again thank you.  It takes a very big person to admit there mistakes and errors. I as well apologize if my post came across harsh.  As far as a describing triclosan as a pesticide, I fail to see how properly addressing a substance by it’s classification is “making it sound scarier than it really is.” By definition a pesticide is “an agent used to destroy pests”  and a pest is “something resembling a pest in destructiveness; especially : a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (as agriculture or livestock production.”, both according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  If bacteria in bath products is considered a pest or something detrimental to humans health and a pesticide is a substance that destroys pests, what is triclosan?

        • Dene62

          In support of Colin’s statement, I believe that the general public have been brainwashed into believing that all pesticides are evil, so describing any substance as a pesticide suggests to the uninitiated that the substance is automatically highly dangerous.

          Your definition of a pesticide may be correct, but bacteria are neither plants nor animals and are not covered by that definition. In other words, bacteria are not “pests”. Triclosan is not used as a pesticide in the broadly-accepted sense of the word, to the best of my knowledge. Triclosan is used in cosmetics to control a very narrow range of bacteria, which means that it is far more accurate to describe it as an antibacterial agent which, I would argue, would sound a lot less scary to the average consumer. I believe that Colin’s assessment of the use of the term “pesticide” in this instance is correct – it is inaccurate and unnecessary. Only my opinion, of course!

          • Adam McPherson

            Your entire argument centers around the statement of “bacteria are not “pests”.”  I would agree if the statement was “not all bacteria are pests” but some are just ask the family members of someone who has died of salmonella.  Secondly, the statement “very narrow range of bacteria”,  are you suggesting that triclosan only targets a “very narrow range of bacteria”? Or is it more accurate to state that, triclosan kills most all types of bacteria and it just so happens that the “very narrow range of bacteria” is covered by this broad spectrum bacteriocide.  All types of bacteria are not bad.  Is there a better, safer and more selective bacteriocide or anitbacterial method that can be used?

          • Dene62

            Sorry,Adam, but that is not correct. the AIDS virus is not a pest, and nor are bacteria. That doesn’t mean that salmonella is not a dangerous bacterium, but it is not a pest in the scope of the usual definition. Yes, triclosan has a very narow spectrum of activity, against a few species of Gram-positive bacteria at normal use concentrations. It is ineffective against fungi and Gram-negative bacteria. In other words, compared to most other antibacterials, it is highly selective.

          • Adam McPherson

            I am sorry Dene but you are wrong.  You are so quick to limit a pest as an animal or plant but that is just not true.  Dissect the word “Pestilence”.  It contains the root word of “Pest” and its definition is “producing or tending to produce infectious or contagious, often epidemic, disease”.  I am failing to gasp your limited definition of pest.  The usual scope of the definition of pest is not so limited as yours.I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation but I fear it has been reduced to semantics.  I will bow out of this conversation and agree to disagree.

          • Dene62

            Adam, I don’t quite grasp your logic. YOUR quoted definition stated plant or animal (and I don’t understand what speed has to do with this!!). If you believe the definition is limited, then don’t quote it!  YOU initiated the semantic argument! It takes TWO to agree to disagree, and I don’t agree with you. Colin was correct to complain about the use of the term pesticide, as applied to triclosan, in my opinion. I WILL agree that further discussion on this matter will be fruitless!

          • Katherine

            Don’t limit it even to those two @PHCHSoap:disqus because there is one other definition of Pest:

            an annoying or troublesome person, animal, or thing; nuisance.


    • Dene62

      I don’t believe that it is either accurate or fair to dismiss the entire article on the basis of a single factual error (even if it was the actual title, and that had already been identified and accepted as erroneous in an earlier comment). Nor, as Colin himself states below, does this detract from the REAL point of the article. Even if triclosan WERE to be used as a pesticide, this in itself does not rule out its use in cosmetics, any more than the fact that propylene glycol’s usage in anti-freeze makes it unsuitable for use in cosmetics. The REAL point of the article is the use of emotive, inaccurate language by the CFSC to describe a cosmetic ingredient. The term “toxic pesticide” in itself has no meaning out of the context of exposure and, in cosmetics, triclosan exposure is not proven to be toxic to humans, whether it be classified as a pesticide or not.

  • crissytee

    You write this with such an authoritative tone, but it’s just lies. Triclosan has been registered pesticide since 1969.  The facts are right there on the EPA website.  

    • Dene Godfrey

      If, instead of being rude, you actually took the time to read the earlier comments, you would have noticed that the point has already been made, in a slightly less offensive manner, and the author responded in an extremely polite manner.

  • Austin

    It appears to me that one or more of you are cosmetic formulators and
    EWG has stepped on your formulations toes and you are now antagonistic
    towards them.

    I’ve seen on your site that you lean towards the ridiculous idea of “not harmful in low amounts” and “FDA states it’s safe.”  Dr. David Graham (20 years scientist at FDA) states that more than 61,000 people have died — from a single FDA approved drug and that the FDA is incapable of protecting Americans from dangerous substances. 

    If one is to lean towards one side or the other (in relation to safety), learn towards safety!  You’re talking about human life.  Possibly your child’s life!

    Regardless, your antagonism is annoying.  Do your own studies.  Help mankind and the planet instead of being critics of groups who are trying to help both.

    BTW – I have no affiliation with any health group. 

    • Colin

      Austin I do lean on the side of safety, which is why I want triclosan banned in personal care products.  I am not remotely antagonistic towards genuine environmental campaigners.  I just regard the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group as scaremongers.

    • Dene62

      “I’ve seen on your site that you lean towards the ridiculous idea of “not harmful in low amounts” “.
      Are you suggesting that there is no threshold of toxicity, and something that causes harm will cause harm at ANY concentration?

      Trying to help, and ACTUALLY helping are two very different things. Your suggestion that anyone who wishes to criticise the EWG (and similar groups) should stop criticising and, instead, begin to carry out their own studies is not helpful. WHY is the antagonism annoying? If there is a strong argument against the criticisms made on PCT, why have you not addressed them instead of simply criticising back?

      You appear to take the attitude that, if someone’s alleged motives are good, they should be above criticism. That is very difficult to justify.

      Btw – I am not a formulator, and the EWG has no direct impact on my work – they are on a different continent.

    • Katherine

      Why do you equate FDA approved drugs with something we apply topically?   They are not remotely the same thing nor does one extrapolate to the other.  Please place a link to the actual study showing anyone who has died from the use of a cosmetic or personal care product.

      I believe that this scenario you use as an analogy for the basis of your criticisms is poorly executed and only further contributes to the rhetoric put out by those that which to base their fear campaigns on theories and “zero” scientific data.  It is fortunate that your critique of this site does not hit the mark.

      • Dene62

        I doubt that you will get a response from Austin, Katie – I am still waiting for one! That invalid comparison finally kicked me into writing a post that I’ve been meaning to write for some time – it will be on PCT tomorrow (according to my source in high places!)

  • noshame

    colin does not know what he is writing about. triclosan is a neurological pesticide. why is this aricle which is a lie still online. no shame for telling lies very misleading only causes more arguments.

    • beautyscientist

      Triclosan is not a neurological pesticide. If you are interested in its mode of action here is a paper that explains it pretty fully. . Getting one’s facts right is always a good idea, but especially so when you are accusing someone else of lying.

      • Dene Godfrey

        Well said, Colin – I guess the clue is in the name!