Triclosan only belongs in the clinic and doctor’s surgery!
Triclosan is a biocidal active substance and an ingredient in disinfectants used in doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries and in hospitals. There, it makes sense and it can be useful in preventing the spread of pathogens. However, hygienists are concerned about the increasingly widespread use of low doses of the biocide in consumer goods like detergents and cleaning products and as a biocidal finish for fabrics and plastics. Firstly, there is a risk that the microorganisms will develop increasing resistance to the active substance, triclosan. Secondly, the resistance mechanism can also render the germs insensitive to antimicrobial substances and antibiotics used for therapeutic purposes. “Triclosan should, therefore, only be used in clinics and doctors’ surgeries”, demands BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “Its application is necessary there on hygienic grounds. But when it comes to everyday life, soap and water or conventional cleaning products are quite capable of achieving the same effect.”
The number of products containing the biocide, triclosan, has increased dramatically in recent years. In contrast to the levels in disinfectants for medical purposes, consumer goods only contain low doses of triclosan. Frequently, these low concentrations are not sufficient to kill the bacterial pathogens. By contrast, the selection pressure is increased: pathogens that have developed resistance to triclosan multiply more readily than non-resistant pathogens from the same species.
In the case of triclosan the emerging resistance of the bacterial pathogens also makes then insensitive to other antimicrobial substances and antibiotics. This resistance mechanism is based on “efflux pumps”. These are cellular structures which actively shuttle toxic substances through the membrane outside the cell thereby ensuring their survival. Hence, the manifold use of triclosan in daily life could contribute to fostering cross-resistances. Pathogens would then be insensitive not only to triclosan but also to antimicrobial substances and antibiotics like quinolones and tetracyclines which are used to treat human beings.
It has still not been fully elucidated whether the increased incidence of cross-resistances to therapeutic antibiotics is linked to the growing use of triclosan. However, an association of this kind is probable and likely.
BfR is, therefore, of the opinion that triclosan and related biocides should be used very restrictively and with the necessary degree of caution. This applies particularly to the private household where the use of substances of this kind does not offer any hygiene advantages and the same effect can be achieved by other classical means. BfR, therefore, advises consumers to refrain from using biocide-containing cleaning agents and products in the home.
Further information on this subject can be accessed on the BfR website (www.bfr.bund.de) under “Biocides”.