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How Your Toothpaste, Soap and Make-Up Can Harm Your Health

Triclosan and triclocarban are widely used in antibacterial soaps, body washes, deodorants, lip glosses, dog shampoos, shave gels and even toothpastes.

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NRDC cites both the recent news from the CDC about the increase in triclosan found in the bodies of Americans (or, more specifically, in their urine) and the study finding that soybeans uptake triclosan and triclocarban into the edible portions of the plant in its press release announcing its lawsuit. NRDC's senior scientist Dr. Sarah Janssen said, "With no proven benefit and many red flags raised for harmful health impacts, the use of these so-called anti-microbials is an unnecessary and stupid use of toxic chemicals."

On its Web site, the FDA says that triclosan "is not currently known to be hazardous to humans," also providing the caveat that "several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review." Of course, that is not the same as saying that triclosan is definitely safe. The FDA continues by raising the question of whether triclosan "contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics" and concluding that, while triclosan may provide some benefit in toothpaste by preventing gingivitis, there is no other evidence that it provides any other benefits to health. The FDA has no similar page on triclocarban.

Currently, both the FDA and the EPA are taking a fresh look at triclosan, at the urging of Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. In April, Markey told the Washington Post, "The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product -- most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys. It's in our drinking water, it's in our rivers and as a result, it's in our bodies ... I don't think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children's toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger."

Markey was also one of three members of Congress to introduce the Safe Cosmetics Act, along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. The bill aims to phase out ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm that are currently used in cosmetics, improve labeling requirements for cosmetics, and to establish a list of cosmetic ingredients that are known to be safe. This would be an improvement to cosmetic safety in so many ways, since it's currently voluntary for a manufacturer to ensure the products it sells don't contain known carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and other harmful chemicals.

In fact, many chemicals used in cosmetics just aren't tested for safety in the first place. The FDA leaves safety to the industry, which in turn sets voluntary standards for cosmetics companies and tests less than 20 percent of ingredients used in cosmetics for safety. Since 1938, the U.S. has banned only eight ingredients out of the 12,000 used in personal care products. In contrast, the E.U. bans over 1,300. That not only reinforces the fact that Americans are unnecessarily and legally exposed to harmful ingredients in their soaps, shampoos and lotions; it also shows that any company selling products in both the U.S. and Europe already knows how to produce its products free of the over 1,300 ingredients banned in the E.U. Surely it wouldn't be unreasonable to ask them to uphold the same safety standard for their U.S. market.

Would adopting Europe's standards or passing the Safe Cosmetics Act remove triclosan and triclocarban from our household products? Perhaps not. The list of chemicals banned in Europe includes heavy metals, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and even pharmaceuticals. Some of these chemicals aren't used in U.S. personal care products anyway. But some are. Take, for example, dibutyl phthalate. You can find that one in any number of Sally Hansen or Cover Girl nail polishes. However, the list of chemicals banned in Europe does not include triclosan or triclocarban. (Nor does it include other chemicals commonly used in personal care products that are potentially harmful, like sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens.) And recall that the FDA, pending its review of triclosan's safety, continues to allow its use and warn of no human safety hazards (even as it recognizes that "animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation."

 
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