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27 May, 2004

Did you know about triclosan?

Chopping boards and other utensils, impregnated with an antibacterial and antifungal agent.  This seemed a really good idea to me, so I keep meaning to buy them when I replace my current ones.  It's certainly a selling point.

Or it was.  A passing comment in a Guardian article led me to Google and a Nature article from as long ago as 1998, plus an associated BBC report – I don't know how this evaded me until now.

It seems that the antibacterial agent in question is triclosan, sometimes marketed as 'Microban'. Never mind 'seems'; I know it is, as such items are sold by e.g. Sainsburys as "with Microban" i.e. it's a promotional point, not a reluctant admission.
The problem is that triclosan, also widely used in toys, washing-up liquids and toothpastes for obvious reasons, and cosmetics for less obvious reasons (as a preservative), is effectively an antibiotic, the indiscriminate use of which could cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop. It has also been measured in human breast milk and fish, demonstrating its capacity as a biotic contaminant (worrying, though there's no scientific suggestion that once there, it's in any way toxic).

So, not one for the shopping list after all. I'll also have to research which toothpastes contain triclosan. Apparently they're the majority in Britain, though not universal. Check the ingredients lists before buying!

Incidentally, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is another ingredient of toothpastes and shampoos to be avoided, which I did know about (why is there a foaming agent in toothpaste, and why use a chemical which degreases and dries the skin in a dandruff shampoo?). It's almost amusing that a side-effect of SLS, mouth ulcers, could be partially counteracted by an antibacterial/antifungal agent such as, er, triclosan.

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