In the latest evidence condemning the synthetic germ-killing chemical triclosan, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that children with higher levels of antibacterial chemicals and preservatives in their urine had higher levels of IgE antibodies, immune chemicals that are higher in people with allergy problems.
While researchers don't believe triclosan directly causes allergies, they say it appears to disrupt normal immune system functioning, partly because it kills germs children would normally be exposed to, which helps build a strong immune system. Known as the hygiene hypothesis, this means that kids who aren't exposed to common pathogens develop an overactive immune system that misfires against harmless things like food proteins, pollen, or pet dander, say researchers. Children with the highest urinary levels of triclosan experienced twice the risk of environmental allergies compared to kids with the lowest levels. "The link between allergy risk and antimicrobial exposure suggests that these agents may disrupt the delicate balance between beneficial and bad bacteria in the body, and lead to immune system dysregulation, which in turn raises the risk of allergies," explains study author Jessica Savage, MD, an allergy and immunology fellow at Johns Hopkins.
The research will appear in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Here's where triclosan's hiding:
#1: Toothpaste. Think about how many times you'll brush your teeth over your lifetime. Ideally, you brush at least twice a day. Cut out triclosan-laden toothpastes like Colgate 2 in 1 and Colgate Total to detox your dental routine.
Avoid it: Look for safer toothpaste brands, such as Solay and Tom's of Maine.
#2: Antibacterial soaps. Many researchers and even the Food and Drug Administration have found that antibacterial soaps work no better than regular soap and water, and they carry added risks. First, triclosan can harm humans and aquatic life after it goes down the drain. Beyond that, the heavy use of antibacterial products is thought to be a contributor to antibiotic-resistant infections.
Avoid it: Many Dial and private label antibacterial soaps contain triclosan. Forget them and instead look for natural, vegetable-based soaps that don't contain fake fragrances, either. We like Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild.
#3: Mouthwash. While certain alcohol-based mouthwashes have been linked to oral cancers, chemical replacements like triclosan probably aren't safe either. Avoid any mouthwash that lists triclosan in the name or ingredients list.
Avoid it: Brush and floss regularly, and chew on a sprig of parsley for a potent breath upgrade. You can even make your own mouthwash: Mix extracts of sage, calendula, and myrrh gum, all typically available at your health food store, in equal parts, and gargle with the solution four times a day.
#4: Other hiding places. Certain brands of deodorant list triclosan as an ingredient, including some Old Spice and Speedstick products. Gillette Complete Skincare Multigel Aerosol Shave Gel also lists triclosan as an ingredient. The chemical's a mainstay in certain cosmetics, as well: Triclosan lurks in some mascara, eye shadow, and even lipsticks, including Revlon ColorStay Overtime Lipcolor products. The same holds true for some skin cleansers and acne products.
Avoid it: Choose a deodorant with a better safety profile, such as Crystal Body deodorant. Really courageous? Make your own, homemade deodorant.
Visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database to rate your personal care products and find safer choices. When shopping for other consumer products, avoid products marketed as "antimicrobial," "anti-odor," "odor-fighting," or treated with "Microban" because they could contain triclosan. The chemical is used in everything from socks and underwear to school supplies and kitchenware.