Triclosan is an antibacterial agent found in various consumer products, from hand soap to shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and clothing and kitchenware. As piercers, we encounter triclosan on a daily basis; it is the active ingredient in the soaps we use—and recommend. However, in April 2014 Scientific American: 60 Second Health reporter Christopher Intagliata posted a podcast about the potential dangers of triclosan. Intagliata explained that the researchers for mBio (the journal which conducted the study)found various levels of triclosan “in blood, urine, breast milk and mucus.” But with such prevalent usage, that was no surprise; that was to be expected. What was a surprise was that the residues from this antimicrobial which, by definition, are added to consumer products “to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination”may actually “boost bacterial growth in our bodies.”
Intagliata explained that when “[r]esearchers swabbed inside the noses of 90 adults, 37 of the 90 tested positive for triclosan—and those who did were twice as likely to have the bug Staphylococcus aureus living in their noses.” But why? According to Blaise Boles, study author from the University of Michigan, “when bacteria are exposed to sublethal levels of antibiotics, they get stressed, and ‘they attach to surfaces and hunker down, in things we call biofilms.’” In short, the more antibacterials a bacteria is exposed to—in small doses of course—the more defensive, aggressive, and resistant it becomes.
This is not the first such study of its kind. Triclosan safety has been questioned since the late 1970s—in fact, the FDA first proposed removing triclosan from certain products in 1978—but this debate truly took center stage late last year (2013) when the FDA agreed to review its safety. In November 2013 the FDA stated that, in light of “several scientific studies [that] have come out since the last time [the] FDA reviewed this ingredient [triclosan, it does]…merit further review.” However the FDA is also quick topointout that, at this time, “triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans.”
But what does this mean for piercers, piercees, and the entire body modification community? Yes, as many of us know, triclosan is an active ingredient in the antimicrobial soaps we use daily, but this study was small in scope, and the findings are not definitive for or against the use of triclosan. According to mBio, what this data does do is “demonstrate the unintended consequences of unregulated triclosan use and contribute to the growing body of research demonstrating inadvertent effects of triclosan on the environment and human health.” As such, the FDA will continue to review the effectiveness—and potential hazards—of triclosan usage, with the hopes of determining whether these products are “generally recognized as safe and effective” by September 2016. Therefore, since this is an ingredient that could have the potential to affect how we go about our jobs on a daily basis, we urge you to keep yourself abreast of the information available on the topic.