Triclosan-containing hand cleaners

A couple of years ago I wondered whether the ubiquitous presence of hand cleaners on the walls of cruise ships, doctor’s offices, etc are worth the space they take and drippy mess they can make.

Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston have looked into the value of soaps containing triclosan, the most popular “active” ingredient in hand cleaners.

First, the details.

  • They searched for English-language articles published between 1980 and 2006 and found 27 studies relevant to review.
  • The main objective was to assess safety.

And, the results.

  • Several laboratory studies demonstrated evidence of triclosan-adapted cross-resistance to antibiotics among different species of bacteria.
  • In addition, soaps containing triclosan at commonly used concentrations in the community (0.1%–0.45%) were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising.”

It’s possible that the lack of effectiveness of triclosan is due to brief, sporadic exposure to the chemical. This might also contribute to resistance of pathogens.

Triclosan has been used in personal hygiene products in the US since the 1960s. It’s the most prevalent “active” ingredient in liquid hand soaps. A long list of products (not just soaps) that contain triclosan can be found here.

5/13/08 18:11 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.