An ingredient commonly found in toothpaste and hand wash has been linked to antibiotic resistance.

Triclosan is a compound used in more than 2000 personal care products, including toothpaste and hand wash, that could be contributing to antibiotic resistance.

This is according to University of Queensland research.

Dr Jianhua Guo, from UQ’s Advanced Water Management Centre, says that while it was well-known the overuse and misuse of antibiotics could create ‘superbugs’, researchers were unaware that other chemicals could also induce antibiotic resistance until now.

It’s in the water

His study found that triclosan in personal care products that we use daily is accelerating the spread of antibiotic resistance in our wastewater.

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“Wastewater from residential areas has similar or even higher levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes compared to hospitals, where you would expect greater antibiotic concentrations,” he says.

“We then wondered whether non-antibiotic, antimicrobial (NAAM) chemicals such as triclosan can directly induce antibiotic resistance,” says Dr Guo.

“These chemicals are used in much larger quantities at an everyday level, so you end up with high residual levels in the wider environment, which can induce multi-drug resistance.

“This discovery provides strong evidence that the triclosan found in personal care products that we use daily is accelerating the spread of antibiotic resistance.”

Related: How we contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections

Why we need to act now

Antimicrobial resistance has become a major threat to public health globally with approximately 700 000 people a year dying from antimicrobial-resistant infections.

The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance report predicted this will reach 10 million deaths a year by 2050 if no action is taken now.

So, here’s a simple thing we can do today – look at the ingredients in toothpaste and soap and avoid buying products that contain triclosan.

“While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the use of triclosan in antibacterial soap, the previous lack of unequivocal evidence prevented such a policy being adopted in other countries,” says Professor Zhiguo Yuan, Advanced Water Management Centre Director.

Source: University of Queensland via

Related: How chemicals in cosmetics affect us

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.