After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the antibacterial chemical triclosan from antibacterial soaps, activists began questioning the decision by the agency to allow the substance to remain in the best-selling toothpaste brand Colgate Total.
Public health activists have suggested that FDA's decision to allow triclosan in toothpaste while banning it in soap is baffling and that it is yet another example of the undue influence of large corporations on public health policy.
Experts began pressuring FDA to ban triclosan in soaps and impose tight regulation on similar antibacterial chemicals following studies that suggested that antibacterial soaps were not more effective than non-antibacterial soaps. According to experts, widespread use of triclosan could be causing more harm than good by promoting emergence of strains of bacteria resistant to common antibacterial agents.
"Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water," FDA said in a recent statement announcing its decision to ban triclosan in soaps. "In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term."
Concerns about the public health impact of triclosan and related chemicals, such as triclocarban, were heightened by studies that suggested it has a disruptive impact on animal metabolism and development of the reproductive system of young animals through interference with normal hormonal function.
But if the FDA banned triclosan from soap because it is a potentially harmful ingredient, how does the agency justify allowing it to remain in toothpaste?
The explanation FDA provides is flagrantly counter-intuitive, public health activists say.
According to The New York Times, FDA had required Colgate-Palmolive, which manufactures Colgate Total -- the only toothpaste in the U.S. that contains triclosan -- to conduct toxicology studies on the chemical. And based on the results of the studies, the agency concluded it was safe and effective in toothpastes and approved it in 1997.
The toxicology studies conducted by Colgate-Palmolive, according to FDA spokesperson Andrea Fischer, indicated that the benefit of triclosan in toothpaste outweighs the risks. According to Fischer, the studies showed that toothpastes that contained triclosan were more effective for "reducing plaque and gingivitis."
"Based on scientific evidence, the balance of benefit and risk is favorable for these products."