Unless you're a regular around the alternative health circles of the internet, you may not know the tale of triclosan. This once ubiquitous chemical has been taken out of many antibacterial soaps over the last year. And just last week, the Environmental Working Group released a statement urging governments to limit the use of triclosan even further.
So what even is this controversial chemical? And why do we hate it so much right now? "It is an antibacterial and antifungal agent," explains Julie Cho, DMD, a dentist based in NYC. It's been used for decades in products such as body washes, hand soaps, household cleansers, and toothpaste.
But when it comes to cleaning, research hasn't proven that using triclosan is any more effective at getting rid of bacteria than plain old soap and water. And some studies have since linked triclosan to hormonal dysfunction and other health issues in mice. So, back in 2016, the FDA ruled that companies would have one year to remove triclosan had to be removed from all "consumer antiseptic washes."
So why not take it out of toothpaste too? Seems logical, especially since you're literally putting the product in your mouth. Well, we use toothpaste in smaller amounts than those other products. And there's solid evidence that triclosan is helpful in toothpaste in a way it isn't in, say, a body wash: Research does show that "triclosan, in small doses, can reduce plaque and gum inflammation," Dr. Cho says. So, in this case at least, "it's easy to argue the benefits outweigh the risks."
That said, of the more than 350 toothpastes on the market today, there's actually only one that still contains triclosan: Colgate Total. So, "if you’re not someone who accumulates a lot of plaque and you have any hesitation about using a toothpaste with triclosan," Dr. Cho says, you certainly have many other options to choose from.
"I always emphasize that it's more about how you use your toothbrush than what kind of toothpaste you use," she explains. We should be brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing once a day, making sure to get every surface — even way in the back of our molars. So, as long as you're doing that, choosing a toothpaste to arm yourself with isn't as a big a deal as actually using it.