Home Medicines Triclosan: effect, areas of application, side effects

Triclosan: effect, areas of application, side effects

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 279 views

Triclosan is used externally as an antiseptic against bacteria and fungi. The active ingredient is found in higher doses in medicines to treat infectious skin diseases and in lower doses in cosmetics and cleaning agents as a preservative. Here you can read everything interesting about triclosan: effect, application and possible side effects.

This is how triclosan works

Triclosan is effective against many, but not all, types of bacteria. In contrast to antibiotics, which often only help against so-called gram-positive or gram-negative types (the difference lies in the structure of the cell membrane of the bacteria), triclosan can be used against both groups of bacteria.

In low concentrations, it has an inhibitory effect on the proliferation of bacteria, i.e. bacteriostatic. This effect results from the inhibition of a bacterial enzyme that is involved in the fatty acid formation of the bacteria. Bacteria need fatty acids as energy suppliers, to build up their cell membrane, for signaling substances and many other functional aspects. Low-dose triclosan with its bacteriostatic effect can be added to cosmetics as a preservative.

In higher concentrations, triclosan has an additional effect – it can kill bacteria (bactericidal effect) by reducing the stability of the bacterial cell membrane. Even slightly unfavorable environmental conditions can lead to the death of the bacterial cells. The bactericidal effect of higher doses of triclosan is used for medicinal products.

The use of triclosan as a preservative in cosmetics used to be widespread but has since declined sharply. However, the active ingredient can still be found in toothpaste and antiseptic soaps.

intake, degradation and excretion

When applying triclosan cream or ointment to the skin , smaller amounts of the active ingredient are absorbed than when using toothpaste or mouthwash containing triclosan. In the latter, parts of the active ingredient enter the blood via the intestine .

Little research has been done on how triclosan is distributed in the body and ultimately excreted. A study of volunteers in Sweden has shown that excretion varies greatly from person to person: the body excretes between a quarter and more than three quarters of the amount of active substance taken in with the urine within four days.

When is triclosan used?

Due to its antimicrobial effect, triclosan is used in cosmetics and hygiene products for preservation (at a dosage of up to 0.3 percent), for example in facial cleansers to prevent acne or in mouthwashes. The active ingredient is also found in toothpaste, shampoos and household cleaners.

Triclosan is only available in finished medicinal products (share of up to three percent, not available in Austria) in combination with cortisone. The preparations are used for eczema (“itchy skin”) with bacterial, fungal and mixed infections.

The individual production of triclosan creams or ointments in the pharmacy according to a doctor’s prescription is also common. In these so-called magistral formulations, the proportion of active ingredients is usually between one and three percent.

In general, it is recommended (both for cosmetics and medicinal products) to limit the time of use. There are clear signs that pathogens can develop resistance to triclosan. 

This is how triclosan is used

In general, preparations to be applied externally (e.g. Triclosan cream) should be used once or twice a day – depending on the manufacturer’s instructions or the doctor’s recommendation. When used in the mouth (in the form of mouthwash solutions, toothpaste and the like), care should be taken not to swallow any of the product.

What are the side effects of triclosan?

Many of the side effects of triclosan only come into play when ingested in large amounts, which is not the case when used on the skin or for oral hygiene. Also, most of the known side effects have only been confirmed in animal experiments.

In experiments with mice, the active ingredient led to temporary muscle weakness in the heart and musculoskeletal system. However, one day after the administration, the original muscle strength was restored.

In addition, triclosan can bind to the docking sites of female (estrogens) and male (androgens) sex hormones. The active substance can therefore potentially have a negative effect on human development and reproduction and promote cancer. 

Animal experiments on rats have also shown an effect on thyroid hormones.

When exposed to direct sunlight, the active ingredient decomposes into sometimes very toxic degradation products (dioxins), which are toxic even in traces. Therefore, triclosan is also to be rated as very questionable for the environment.

What should be considered when using triclosan?


Direct interactions with other active ingredients are not described in the scientific literature.

age restriction

Products containing triclosan should not be used in the oral cavity in small children or elderly patients because of the risk of swallowing.

pregnancy and breast feeding period

As a precaution, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid products with triclosan or only use them under medical supervision.

How to get supplements with triclosan

In general, triclosan does not require a prescription. In pharmaceuticals, however, the active ingredient is usually contained in combination with prescription substances (e.g. cortisone). These preparations are therefore only available in pharmacies upon presentation of a doctor’s prescription.

Since when is triclosan known?

Triclosan was first registered as an antimicrobial in the United States in 1969. At first it was only used in a medical context, for which it was marketed as a surgical disinfectant from 1972.

Since then, it has also been increasingly used for consumer goods such as soaps, deodorants and toothpastes. As a result of the increasingly strict legal situation, the safety of triclosan has also been closely scrutinized. As a consequence, its widespread and unsuspecting use is now declining again.

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