Should Your Company Wash Its Hands of Triclosan?

The negative profile of the anti-bacterial chemical triclosan has been rising, so companies should be concerned about whether it will follow in Bisphenol A's (BPA) footsteps and get removed from consumer markets.

Once largely unknown to the public and even to retailers, the BPA in polycarbonate baby and sport bottles is now a poster child example of a substance that can pose a reputational hazard for companies. Triclosan could become, as Yogi Berra might say, a case of "déjà vu all over again."

If your company is using triclosan or its chemical cousin triclocarban in your consumer products, what are you doing to anticipate some "stop order" directive from a major retailer, even before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decide whether to tighten regulations? What's your substitution strategy? What's your exit strategy?soapy hands by JAR

Triclosan's had a good run for many years, driving a strong market for anti-bacterial hand soaps and other products, but at some point the reputational and marketing liabilities of triclosan may outweigh financial benefits.

It's difficult to forecast when a tipping point may come. When regulators revisit the issue they may even conclude triclosan doesn't pose a sufficiently worrisome hazard. But retailers may move more quickly than regulators based on consumer and reputational concerns.

If your company's not examining a "no triclosan" scenario for its consumer products, especially soaps, you may be ill-prepared to be shut out of the market. Conversely, you ought to be considering enlarged market share opportunities for triclosan-free products.

In its April 2010 fact sheet for consumers, FDA stated, "Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans." However, in the very next sentence FDA adds, "But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review." FDA goes on to say that triclosan alters hormone regulation in animal studies, and some studies raise the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

So how about triclosan's benefits? FDA acknowledges that in some consumer products triclosan is beneficial. FDA adds, however, "At this time, the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water." This statement should be a wake up call for corporate brand managers marketing soaps and body washes.