Could triclosan questions benefit hand sanitizers?

Articles
May 21, 2010

Could the ubiquity of triclosan lead to an ingredient revamp of the soaps, toothpaste, deodorants and other products that contain the antibacterial chemical? If so, what could replace it, and how would categories and brands be affected?

Could the ubiquity of triclosan lead to an ingredient revamp of the soaps, toothpaste, deodorants and other products that contain the antibacterial chemical? If so, what could replace it, and how would categories and brands be affected?

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aren't anywhere near such a decision. But "recent scientific studies raise questions about whether triclosan disrupts the body's endocrine system and whether it helps to create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics," according to a letter from the FDA to Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) obtained by the Washington Post and reported recently.

Such concerns have Markey pushing to restrict the use of triclosan - and he is being heard by an Obama Administration that has been proactive on matters of food safety and public health. This is why F3 believes CPG, retailers and respective trade associations need to weigh in on these discussions. The issue will likely not go away without further scientific scrutiny and possible debate.

Meanwhile, intermittent scares such as the H1N1 virus drive consumers to more cautious hygiene habits, such as the use of hand sanitizers, most of which rely on alcohol rather than triclosan. Therefore, sanitizers could get a further boost from any rise in controversy. Nielsen data for four-week periods between spring and autumn 2009 show significant sales spikes in hand sanitizers when news of H1N1 was prominent in daily headlines.

Each sales spike peaked higher, and each plateau point following the spike was higher too. For example, dollar sales in the four weeks ended May 16, 2009 in U.S. food, drug and mass merchandiser stores (including Walmart) surged 211.7% over the year-earlier period to $27.8 million, and then receded to $10.6 million in the four-week period ended July 11, 2009, reported Nielsen. 

The category became even more volatile in the autumn period. Dollar sales surged 232.7% over the year-earlier period to $29.0 million in the four weeks ended October 31, 2009, and then receded more gradually to $12.3 million in the four weeks ended January 23, 2010, the Nielsen data show.

F3 believes consumers bought the hand sanitizers with a sense of urgency to help protect their families because of the portability and control the products give. We doubt much thought was given to the absence of triclosan in most brands, although it's possible the more aware the public becomes of these questions, the greater the benefit to the category.

Hand sanitizer dollar sales soared by 73.6% to $229.9 million during the 52 weeks ended March 20, 2010 on a 61.3% equivalized unit volume rise, the Nielsen data showed. That followed a lackluster prior year during which dollar sales slipped 2.4%.

"We don't have the evidence to suggest [triclosan] is a threat to human health. However, we have to understand better the health effects, and we have to work with other agencies to collect that information and then decide whether or not we need to change how it's regulated," Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told the Washington Post.