Colgate-Palmolive Co. faces questions about the safety of the antibacterial ingredient triclosan in Total toothpaste. The company says Total is safe, citing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for the product.
Triclosan has been linked to cancer-cell growth and disrupted development in animals, Bloomberg News reports. Triclosan is used in such products as soap, toys, and cutting boards, but many of these uses are under review and some companies are phasing out triclosan. Minnesota voted in May to ban triclosan in many products. Colgate says Total underwent a rigorous FDA approval process, but Bloomberg News says that some of the scientific findings Colgate put forward to establish triclosan’s safety are not black and white. The findings did not become available to the public until this year when 35 pages summarizing toxicology studies were released in response to a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act request. Three scientists who reviewed that material and other research on triclosan at Bloomberg News’s request question whether the Total approval should stand.
According to Colgate-Palmolive, Total’s effectiveness and safety are supported by more than 80 clinical studies involving 19,000 people. A company spokesperson said that since 1997, when Total went on the market, “there has been no signal of a safety issue from adverse-event reports” to the FDA. The company says Total has an important health benefit in fighting plaque and gingivitis, which can progress to periodontal disease, Bloomberg News reports.
Recent studies, though, find health concerns about triclosan. A 2012 study linked the chemical to reduced fertility in mice; another study suggested it could impair muscle function. A 2013 study linked triclosan to lowered sperm production and changed sperm shape in rats, Bloomberg News reports. Some studies have shown triclosan to be no more effective that soap and water in killing bacteria and it could support growth of the type of bacteria that causes staph infections.
Recent studies suggest that even small doses of certain chemicals can significantly affect hormone functions, if they are delivered at the wrong moment. Scientists are also concerned that rising doses of triclosan may cause new unpredictable effects, according to Bloomberg News.