Now You Can Answer the Door: Avon to Phase Out Triclosan, the Useless Chemical Nobody Wants


Avon is the latest company to announce plans to remove triclosan from its beauty and personal care products.

In 2010, the FDA acknowledged that triclosan was no more effective than simple hand washing with soap and water at preventing the spread of bacteria and fungi. But unlike soap and water, triclosan comes with some undesirable side effects, mainly the ability for bacteria to become resistant to it and other antibacterial products.

Triclosan is considered to have health risks for its potential to cause an increased risk of allergies. It is also implicated in negatively impacting hormones, slowing cognitive function an causing reproductive harm. The ingredient is found in color cosmetics, lotions and creams, shaving products, hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps, detergents and toothpastes. It has also been identified as causing damage to marine ecosystems.

Avon responded to its shareholders and customers who wanted the chemical removed after  competing brands including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble announced they would eliminate triclosan from their products. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics congratulated Avon on the move, while also pushing the company to take further actions to improve the safety of its cosmetics.

“The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics congratulates Avon for finally giving triclosan the boot,” Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and director of program and policy at the Breast Cancer Fund said in a statement. “It’s a hormonally active chemical that has no business being in cosmetics and personal care products.  But triclosan is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unsafe chemicals in cosmetics.  We want Avon to adopt a comprehensive policy that declares chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other adverse health effects to be off limits in cosmetics and to support stricter regulation of the $71 billion cosmetics industry so that everyone is protected.”

Avon hasn’t said officially yet what will replace triclosan, but many companies have replaced it with quaternary ammonia compounds (or quats), the most common being used is benzalkonium chloride.

“Unlike triclosan, quats can hide in plain sight on labels, where they go by many different names,” reports the Guardian. “The health data on quats is also more conclusive than the evidence on triclosan: In studies of the health effects of professional cleaning products, researchers have found that exposure to quats contributes to respiratory distress and irritation, exacerbating asthma in those who are already asthmatic and prompting asthma in those who are not.”

Avon cosmetics are sold throughout the U.S. and in more than 140 countries. The company’s sales in 2012 were $10.7 billion, making it the fifth largest cosmetic company in the world and the second largest direct selling operation. Avon employs more than 6.4 million representatives who still go door-to-door selling the products. But now, health-minded consumers may actually want to let them in.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.