Chemical Profile: Triclosan / Triclocarban

Chemical Profile Triclosan Triclocarban MADE SAFE Blog

Why It Matters

Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of triclosan and triclocarban in consumer antibacterial hand soaps in 2017, these substances are still incorporated into various other household and personal care products used today. While legislation did force these chemicals from hand soaps and sanitizers, both triclosan and triclocarban can still be added to other consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. [20]  Triclosan is linked to endocrine disruption, the rise of bacterial “superbugs,” and environmental toxicity, amongst other adverse human health effects. It’s up to the consumer to understand the risks associated with triclosan and triclocarban (which eventually prompted their ban in the first place) and to avoid these ingredients in consumer products where their use is still permitted.

What Is It?

Triclosan and triclocarban are synthetic microbials added to some consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. While triclocarban was primarily used in antimicrobial soaps, triclosan is more broadly used across various consumer products. Triclosan is designed to kill germs and is a registered pesticide. [7]

Chemical Profile Triclosan Triclocarban Infographic MADE SAFE Blog

Where It's Found

Triclosan was initially made for hospital environments, as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. However, over the last 30 years, triclosan has found its way into everyday products, including antibacterial soaps, body washes, toothpastes, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, toys, and mattresses.

The Health Concern

There are a variety of health concerns associated with triclosan, such as endocrine disruption [2] [5] [6] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19], triclosan-resistant bacteria [14], environmental toxicity [4], and bioaccumulation [1] (builds up in the body). Triclosan is a hormone disruptor that impacts the thyroid [16] and is linked to increased risk of breast cancer.[10]  It has been found in urine, breast milk [1] and the umbilical cords of babies.

The European Union classifies triclosan as a skin and eye irritant and toxic to aquatic life.[9]  As a microbe-killing agent, it’s actually been shown to be substantially more likely to kill susceptible aquatic life. Fish and crustaceans, in particular, have exhibited very low thresholds to toxic exposures of triclocarban, and algae appear to be rather vulnerable to exposures of triclosan.[4]  In addition, triclosan has been shown to contribute to the rise of “superbugs,” which are bacteria and viruses that have become resistant to antimicrobials and antibacterials.[14]

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of triclosan and 18 other antibacterial ingredients, including triclocarban, in consumer antibacterial hand soaps after years of petitioning from numerous non-governmental organizations. The FDA stated that soap works equally well for reducing the spread of germs without the toxic side-effects of biocides like triclosan and triclocarban.[11]  To comply with the FDA’s final rule,[12] companies that used these ingredients in their soaps were required to remove or reformulate their products without the antibacterial active ingredients.

In 2018, the FDA took this ruling even further. In addition to banning these active ingredients in household consumer products, the FDA declared triclosan and 23 other antibacterial ingredients are “not generally recognized as safe and effective” in select over-the-counter antiseptic products used in healthcare settings. Of these ingredients from the FDA’s ruling in 2018,[13]  only triclosan had been used in a small number of products marketed to healthcare establishments.

Although these final rules are a step in the right direction, we must remember triclosan can still be found in a wide range of consumer products in the United States, like personal care products, acne treatments, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant. Furthermore, where there was once triclosan or triclocarban, there may now be another chemical or ingredient being used with similar and/or different harmful impacts such as: silver, or quaternary ammonium compounds, or other ingredients.

How to Avoid It

Read labels, avoid triclosan and triclocarban, and also:

  • Wash hands with plain soap and water. It is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid spreading germs and getting sick. Also, the CDC recommends scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday in your head).
  • Try to avoid products labeled or marketed as “antimicrobial,” “odor fighting,” “germ-killing,” or “antibacterial.”
  •  Shop MADE SAFE Certified products


[1] Adolfsson-Erici, M., Pettersson, M., Parkkonen, J., and Sturve, J. (2002). Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden. Chemosphere. 46(9-10):1485-9.

[2] Ahn, K. C., Zhao, B., Chen, J., Cherednichenko, G., Sanmarti, E., Denison, M. S., . . . Hammock, B. D. (2008). In vitro biologic activities of the antimicrobials triclocarban, its analogs, and triclosan in bioassay screens: Receptor-based bioassay screens. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(9), 1203-1210.

[3] Beyond Pesticides. (n.d.) Triclosan: Environmental Fate and Effects. Accessed September 6, 2022.

[4] Chalew, T.E. and Halden, R.U. (2009). Environmental Exposure of Aquatic and Terrestrial Biota to Triclosan and Triclocarban. J Am Water Works Assoc. 45(1):4-13.

[5] Chen, J., Ahn, K. C., Gee, N. A., Ahmed, M. I., Duleba, A. J., Zhao, L., . . . Lasley, B. L. (2008). Triclocarban enhances testosterone action: A new type of endocrine disruptor? Endocrinology, 149(3), 1173-1179.

[6] Christen, V., Crettaz, P., Oberli-Schrämmli, A., & Fent, K. (2010). Some flame retardants and the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban enhance the androgenic activity in vitro. Chemosphere, 81(10), 1245-1252.

[7] Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA). (2022). Triclosan. Accessed September 6, 2022.

[8] European Chemicals Agency. Triclocarban. REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation Registered Substances Factsheets. Accessed September 6, 2022.

[9] European Chemicals Agency. Triclosan. REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation Registered Substances Factsheets. Accessed September 6, 2022.

[10] Farasani, A. and Darbre, P.D. (2020). Long-term exposure to triclosan increases migration and invasion of human breast epithelial cells in vitro. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 41:1115-1125.

[11] Federal Drug Administration (FDA). (2016). Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It - Use Plain Soap and Water.

[12] Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Safety and Effectiveness of Consumer Antiseptics; Topical Antimicrobial Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use.

[13] Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). Safety and Effectiveness of Health Care Antiseptics; Topical Antimicrobial Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use.

[14] Heath, R., Li, J., Roland, G.E., and Rock, C.O. (2002). Inhibition of Staphylococcus aureus NADPH-dependent enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase by triclosan and hexachlorophene. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 275: 4654-9.

[15] Huang, H., Du, G., Zhang, W., Hu, J., Wu, D., Song, L., . . . Wang, X. (2014). The in vitro estrogenic activities of triclosan and triclocarban. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 34(9), 1060-1067.

[16] James, M. O., Li, W., Summerlot, D. P., Rowland-Faux, L., & Wood, C. E. (2010). Triclosan is a potent inhibitor of estradiol and estrone sulfonation in sheep placenta. Environment International, 36(8), 942-949.

[17] Kumar, V., Chakraborty, A., Kural, M. R., & Roy, P. (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reproductive Toxicology, 27(2), 177-185.

[18] Paul, K. B., Hedge, J. M., DeVito, M. J., & Crofton, K. M. (2010). Short-term exposure to triclosan decreases thyroxine in vivo via upregulation of hepatic catabolism in young long-evans rats. Toxicological Sciences, 113(2), 367-379.

[19] Zorrilla, L., Gibson, E.K., Jeffay, S.C., Crofton, K.M., Setzer, W.R., Cooper, R.L., and Stoker, T.E. (2009). The effects of Triclosan on Puberty and Thyroid Hormones in Male Wistar Rats. TOXICOLOGICAL SCIENCES. 107(1) 56-64.

[20] Office of the Commissioner. (2019, May 16). 5 Things to Know About Triclosan. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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