Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in hundreds of soaps and cleaners, may be getting a dirty reputation.
The chemical has been under review since April 2010, and now the FDA announced that it will extend its assessment of triclosan after several animal studies have shown that the antiseptic may disrupt hormone levels and even cause antibiotic resistance.
The FDA has stated there is not enough evidence to discourage consumers to stay away from products containing triclosan, but the federal organization also noted there is no evidence that the antibacterial provides any more benefit to washing in a household setting than regular soap and water.
Triclosan was originally intended as a hospital surgical scrub to prevent transmission of disease in patients. Today, the chemical is found in thousands of household products.
"It is a valuable product when used in hospitals to inhibit growth of organisms and has been shown to prevent infection in hospitals," said Dr. Stuart Levy, professor of microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, who has conducted studies on triclosan's safety in household products. "But the use of the chemical in household products is not the place it should be used."
In 2001, Levy and other Tufts scientists conducted research that found 75 percent of study participants ages 5 and older had traces of the substance in their urine.
"[Antibacterial products] are now being added to products used in healthy households, even though an added health benefit has not been demonstrated," study authors wrote. "Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics."
But the American Cleaning Institute rejects the dangers, and adds that triclosans benefits all who use the products.
"These products play a beneficial role in the daily hygiene routines of millions of people throughout the U.S. and worldwide," a spokesperson for the American Cleaning Institute wrote in a statement. "They have been and are used safely and effectively in homes, hospitals and workplaces every single day."
"Bottom line, where is the benefit?" Levy asked rhetorically. "It has much more harm than benefit."