New Stealth Chemical in Your Toothpaste and
Some Hand Soaps Might Cause Cancer
October 12th, 2014 by Holly Cornish
No doubt you’re aware of – or, better yet, part of – the push to get back to nature and away from processed, chemicalized and factory-made products. It started out as something of a grassroots movement, but grows stronger each month as more people discover they’ve been bamboozled by misinformation from industry, the government and the medical profession.
So you won’t be surprised to learn that yet another chemical found in scores of common household products is now being linked to cancer. You’ll want to avoid this one when you know the facts. . .
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How triclosan steadily invades our homes and bodies
The chemical in question is triclosan. Its merits are most widely marketed by Colgate Total toothpaste, with claims that triclosan helps fight plaque and gingivitis. Thanks to this ingredient, Colgate claims to make the only toothpaste approved by the FDA to fight these two dental problems.
While Colgate Total is the only toothpaste on the market in the U.S. that contains triclosan, you can find this chemical in plenty of other products. For example, many brands of antibacterial soap contain the chemical, as do several cosmetics. You’ll also find it in shoes with odor-protection and in coolers, of all things.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, it’s true that triclosan helps prevent gingivitis. But at what cost? Where’s the payoff in preventing a gum disease if you’re only going to end up with cancer because of it?
And there’s no proof that soaps and body washes with triclosan give you any additional benefit. They’re as effective (and not more so) as all the other soaps on the market and share one common goal: to get a person clean.
Whatever the evidence, we’re all getting loaded up with triclosan, whether we like it or not. It’s a sneaky chemical and enters your body through ingestion (for example, when brushing your teeth and swallowing small bits of toothpaste), and absorption through the skin.
One study done by the Centers for Disease Control found about 1,500 out of some 2,000 study participants had triclosan in their urine – three out of four. And people who brushed their teeth with Colgate Total had over five times as much triclosan in their urine as people who used other brands of toothpaste.
The presence of chemicals in your body is disturbing enough, but recent animal studies link triclosan to breast cancer. In addition, triclosan has been proven to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can alter the expression of genes.
Breast cancer development is associated with the altered expression of certain cells within the breast, and those cells are directly affected by triclosan. In mouse models, breast tumor masses were observed following exposure to triclosan.
FDA chooses to look the other way
Widespread use of triclosan dates back to the 1970s, when it was used in hospitals as an antimicrobial agent. The FDA first promised to assess its use back in 1974. That study was never completed.
But other watchdogs are starting to take notice of the risks. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology in America bluntly recommended that doctors steer clear of soaps containing triclosan. Minnesota recently became the first state to ban use of the chemical throughout the state. Unfortunately, though, they can’t ban the use of triclosan in already-FDA approved products, like Colgate Total.
The makers of products containing triclosan, and Colgate Total in particular, argue that triclosan levels in their products aren’t even close to the large amounts of exposure seen in animal studies. But I would argue the one-to-one comparison they make is invalid, because there’s no knowing what the effect of cumulative triclosan in the human body over the course of decades might be.
Perhaps the risk is small, but the chemical seems to offer very few benefits. There’s no reason to use it at all.
This chemical should be removed from our household products. Because it disrupts the endocrine system, exposure is also believed to affect thyroid development. This makes pregnant women, infants and young children particularly vulnerable to negative health effects.
In addition, the more studies researchers complete on triclosan, the more harmful they find it to be.
The FDA won’t go so far as to call triclosan an actual danger, but they do make the “helpful” suggestion that consumers think twice before buying products with triclosan. That’s like a parent telling a small child to “think about looking both ways before you cross that busy road… but hey, it’s okay if you don’t bother.”
And, on top of the valid concerns that taking this chemical into your body can result in eventual cancer, another source of worry is that triclosan is polluting our waterways, washing down the drains with the rinse water from poisoned soaps, and eventually harming the delicate ecosystems in our waterways.
Consumers make the final choice here
Because of the growing uproar about triclosan, toothpaste maker Procter & Gamble has started a marketing campaign to make it known that Crest toothpaste is 100% triclosan-free. I think this is an excellent move. For starters, it’s nice to know you don’t have to eat a vicious chemical every time you brush your teeth.
Of course, Crest (and most other toothpastes) contain fluoride, which is perhaps even worse. If you don’t know about the dangers of fluoride – including fluoridated water — see Issue #287. This is essential knowledge you need to have.
I use fluoride-free toothpastes purchased in health food stores – haven’t used fluoride in years. And, look Mom! I don’t get any cavities.
But it’s a good thing if companies want to boast that their products are triclosan-free. Proctor & Gamble’s little exercise in opportunism will perhaps help warn the public about the presence of triclosan in other products. It adds fodder to the “back to nature” movement by getting people to question the presence of chemicals in basic household items.
Such advertising is a useful change from ads that heap praise on chemical additives. We’ve been trained to think more is better, and that the addition of unheard-of things with scientific names in our products makes them superior. Marketers used to say “new” is one of the most powerful words you can put in an ad, and the easiest “new” thing to come up with is a chemical.
But people are waking up. So if enough of us make it a point to purchase triclosan-free products, more companies will realize the importance of not using it.
And maybe, maybe, the FDA will actually wake up and remember its job is to save the public from chemicals “of concern.” But don’t hold your breath. Tragically, this agency is worse than useless. Its existence leads the public to think our foods, drugs and personal products are checked out and proven safe before being permitted on the shelves. This is not even remotely true. But it creates a false sense of security that costs people their lives and their health. Don’t be fooled.
On a happier note, our last issue highlighted a promising new natural treatment for liver cancer. If you missed it, please scroll down and read it here.
Lee Euler, Publisher