Even though it's getting easier and easier to buy products deemed “all natural” and free of dangerous ingredients, harmful chemicals still sneak their way into household products. In fact, women exposed to one such chemical may be more likely to develop a serious bone condition.
A hormone-disrupting chemical called triclosan commonly used as an antibacterial in consumer goods like hand soap and body wash may lead to osteoporosis in women exposed to high levels, according to a new study in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Of the 1,848 women studied, researchers found that those with higher levels of triclosan in their urine were more likely to have low bone mineral density and osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which you lose too much or make too little bone, which increases your risk of breaks, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). While it can occur in anyone, it’s more common in women than men, affecting about one in two women over the age of 50 in the United States. Weak or broken bones can lead to limited mobility, which can then spur issues with isolation and depression when a person can no longer participate in the activities they once did.
What You Should Know About Triclosan
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned the use of triclosan in over-the-counter hand sanitizers, it can still be found in other consumer products, like soaps, toothpastes, mouthwash, makeup, and even kitchenware or toys. Water can also become contaminated with the chemical. When exposed to your mouth or skin, it can be absorbed into your body.
"As far as we know, this is the first epidemiological study to investigate the association between triclosan exposure with bone mineral density and osteoporosis in a nationally representative sample from U.S. adult women,” says study author Yingjun Li, Ph.D., of Hangzhou Medical College School of Public Health in Hangzhou, China.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the study only found an association between the chemical and osteoporosis—more research needs to be done to determine a cause-and-effect link and pinpoint whether there is a specific level of exposure that becomes unsafe.
How to Limit Triclosan Exposure
That said, there’s no harm in taking simple steps to avoid unnecessary exposure to triclosan. All it takes is some simple product label reading while you’re shopping.
In products that are considered over-the-counter drugs, like antibacterial soaps and body washes and fluoride toothpaste, triclosan will be listed as an ingredient in the Drug Facts box if it’s in the product, according to the FDA. If you’re buying cosmetics, especially those that say they have “antibacterial” properties, check for triclosan in the ingredient list on the label.
You can also search the Environmental Working Group’s website for specific products that may contain triclosan—it even gives each product a 1-10 score to help you determine how potentially hazardous it may be.
If you’re worried about bacteria but want to avoid antibacterial products with triclosan, know that the FDA actually says plain soap and water is just as good when it comes to preventing the spread of illness-causing bacteria. You can also try cleaning products that contain essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender, which also have antimicrobial properties and don’t come with the risks of triclosan.