June 11, 2016
Cancer is everywhere these days, it seems, and much of it is attributable to our modern lives: It is found in the foods we eat, caused by the devices we use and is ever present in the air we breathe.
And now, it seems, it is even in our toothpaste – a brand you may be using without even knowing it is likely carcinogenic.
As reported by Newsweek, the ingredient is a germicide known as triclosan, which is found in Colgate Total, a much-used brand manufactured by Colgate-Palmolive. Marketed since 1997, the company says it is the “only toothpaste approved by the FDA to help fight plaque and gingivitis” – which it does by lathering your teeth with triclosan.
That claim is at least half true, because no other toothpaste being sold in the U.S. contains the ingredient, although it is found in a number of antibacterial soaps and cosmetics as well. But triclosan’s bacteria-fighting ability is what has raised concerns recently about the safety of Colgate Total, as well as whether the Food and Drug Administration allowed it onto the market without paying heed to warnings regarding triclosan (as if that would be a first for the FDA).
“110 percent marketing”
For it’s part, the company is defending its product. On the Colgate Total website, the company falls back on the fact that it’s ingredient has been approved as “safe” by the FDA, adding:
Colgate recognizes the importance of continuous scientific study. We conduct research, publish papers, and actively participate in expert symposia on an ongoing basis. We closely investigate all new information.
We remain confident that ongoing independent reviews will continue to add to the substantial body of research that affirms the effectiveness and safety of triclosan in Colgate Total toothpaste.
Others are not so inclined to agree, however, mostly because of its association with causing cancer and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
As reported by Newsweek:
First used in the 1970s in hospitals, it has since become a widespread antimicrobial agent. Not only is triclosan present in Colgate Total and many household soaps, but it can also be found in coolers, odor-protected shoes and makeup, according to Mae Wu, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She says that triclosan is “all over the place,” even if, as she notes, we had “been doing fine without it” for several centuries of human-microbial cohabitation of the planet.
“Triclosan is 110 percent marketing,” says Michael Osterholm, who heads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
FDA won’t come out and call it dangerous
Osterholm helped Minnesota become the first state to ban nearly all uses of triclosan. He noted that the substance had been replaced by better, safer antimicrobial agents, and that Procter & Gamble was now advertising its popular Crest toothpaste as being “100% triclosan free.”
That could also be a marketing gimmick, but it is one that is likely to make more people ask if more products they use around the house also contain the compound, which would force Colgate to do something about it.
“They understand that the public is getting this,” Osterholm says of the Crest claim.
“Triclosan isn’t an essential ingredient in many products,” Dr. James M. Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic wrote. “While triclosan added to toothpaste has been shown to help prevent gingivitis, there’s no evidence that antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan provide any extra benefits, according to the Food and Drug Administration.”
The FDA, meanwhile, says on its website that soaps containing antibacterial agents like triclosan have not been “any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.” But the agency stops far short of calling triclosan a danger and only suggests that consumers think about buying a different product.