What’s the deal with Colgate Total and Triclosan?

Many people may have concerns about the safety of the Triclosan contained in Colgate Total following recent media coverage. A lot of the information in this coverage has been shown to be false when fact checked by Snopes, but that doesn’t mean that there is no reason for concern.

What Is Triclosan?

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is added to some antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics. It also can be found in clothing, kitchenware, furniture, carpets, plastics, paints and toys.

How Safe Is Triclosan?

The FDA web site states: “Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. But we don’t know the significance of those findings to human health. Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At this time, we don’t have enough information available to assess the level of risk that triclosan poses for the development of antibiotic resistance.
There are other ongoing studies that involve the safety of triclosan. One is a study investigating the potential of developing skin cancer after a long-term exposure to triclosan in animals. Another is a study on the potential breakdown of triclosan to other chemicals on human skin after exposure to triclosan to ultraviolet (UV) rays. At this time, neither study has been completed.”

In 2016 there was a consensus statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban made by over 200 signatories from 29 countries representing expertise on health and environmental impacts and efficacy of antimicrobials, known as the Florence Statement. They raised several concerns about the continued widespread use of these antimicrobials, as they persist in the environment which may be detrimental to some ecosystems, but it also means that humans are exposed from several sources including food, drinking water, and dust. Triclosan has been detected in the urine of the majority of humans tested.

Their recommendations included: Avoid the use of triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobial chemicals except where they provide an evidence-based health benefit (e.g., physician-prescribed toothpaste for treating gum disease) and there is adequate evidence demonstrating they are safe.

What about Colgate Total?

Colgate Total is formulated with 0.3% triclosan and is clinically proven to work better than other toothpastes to reduce harmful plaque bacteria, which are the cause of most common oral health problems. It has been approved as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via its rigorous New Drug Application (NDA) process which requires a comprehensive evaluation of human safety, including a review of nonclinical studies covering a wide array of toxicological endpoints, such as carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, eye and skin irritation, and short term and long term toxicity. The FDA’s NDA approval also requires ongoing monitoring and updating, and although the FDA has issued new rules for antibacterial consumer hand soap where Triclosan hasn’t shown any benefit, but it has not changed its approval of Colgate Total. Independent scientific committees of the European Commission have evaluated triclosan several times and concluded that triclosan use at 0.3% in toothpaste is considered safe.

So in summary Triclosan is a potentially harmful substance when introduced into the environment at the rate that we are currently doing so and it’s use in so many products needs to be restricted. It’s very low dose in toothpaste is unlikely to have any detrimental effect and the benefits probably out way the risks. My own experience and opinion is that good home cleaning technique and care with diet will have far more significance than inclusion of this one antibacterial in a paste, and if someone was wishing to avoid it but was suffering gum disease then there are other adjuncts to normal cleaning that we can recommend.