Effective antibacterial agent that has been used for over 40 years in many products, including those for oral hygiene, cleansers, and deodorants (Source: Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Letter, 2001 & American Journal of Infection Control, 2000).
As an antibacterial agent, triclosan can help begin the process of killing the bacteria that plays a role in acne, which is why it is included in some rinse-off products designed for those with breakout-prone skin (Source: The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 2010).
In recent years, triclosan has become a controversial ingredient; however, despite what you may have read online, it is not a health threat nor is it an ingredient that should be avoided. As with many cosmetic ingredients, the truth isn’t nearly as intriguing as twisting information so as to make a benign ingredient seem scary or dangerous.
The latest research has proven that triclosan is safe as used in cosmetic products, assuming that said products are being used as directed. In fact, one study concluded that "The amount [of triclosan] absorbed suggests that daily application of a standard adult dose would result in a systemic exposure 890 times lower than the relevant no-observed-adverse-effect level." In short, there is no reason to avoid triclosan in skin-care products, especially if acne is your concern (Source: The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 2010, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2010 & Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 2010).
Concerns have been raised regarding the environmental impact of triclosan, but as of now, there are no studies that indicate triclosan poses a specific risk to the environment. What is being discussed is what impact, if any, triclosan poses to the environment and whether this conflicts with current data. Such is the nature of scientific and medical research—always evolving (and that’s a good thing).
The FDA and Health Canada both have stated that the amount of triclosan present in waterways is, as of current research, not of an amount that poses a risk to humans or aquatic life (marine or plant)—hence the regulation limiting triclosan's use to specific levels in products is working as intended without evidence of environmental harm. The EPA has also concluded that based upon current research the “estimated concentrations of triclosan in surface water do not exceed concentrations of concern for acute risk for aquatic organisms and plants.”
Triclosan is also sometimes described as an ingredient that can cause cell death, yet the study concluding that triclosan causes cell death was done on gingival cells that line the mouth. Not only are these cells different from skin cells and intact skin, but the results primarily indicated triclosan was a problem when mixed with oral-care ingredients zinc citrate and sodium fluoride. In other words, the detrimental effect observed in vitro (not in an actual human mouth) was not attributable to triclosan alone, not to mention the damage was minimal (European Journal of Oral Science, 1998). In short, this study is no more applicable to using triclosan in rinse-off skincare products than looking at a picture of Hawaii is just like being there in person.
Last, scientists who belong to the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety analyzed multiple studies and data on triclosan exposure. In March 2011, they concluded triclosan was safe as used in cosmetic products at levels below 0.3% and when the product is used as directed (for example, use the facial cleanser to wash your face, but don’t drink the stuff). Currently, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that “triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans” and that they “do not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.” (FDA.gov, 2014).