Efficacy of triclosan as an antimicrobial hand soap and its potential impact on antimicrobial resistance: a focused review

Pharmacotherapy. 2015 Mar;35(3):328-36. doi: 10.1002/phar.1553.


Triclosan is a synthetic biocide found in many household products, including antimicrobial hand soap. Levels of triclosan have been found throughout the environment and in human urine, blood, and even breast milk. Increasing levels of exposure to triclosan have led to concerns over the development of resistance to triclosan and cross-resistance to other antimicrobials. We performed a literature search to assess whether the widespread use of triclosan displays a favorable benefit: risk ratio, defined by evaluation of triclosan's efficacy as an antimicrobial hand soap and its potential effect on the development of antimicrobial resistance. Data from laboratory-based studies regarding the efficacy of triclosan are conflicting, although well-designed studies suggest no significant difference in efficacy over nonantimicrobial soap. In addition, when triclosan was introduced in a community setting, no beneficial effects were observed on the reduction of infections over nonantimicrobial soap. Resistance to triclosan and cross-resistance to antimicrobials have been consistently demonstrated in laboratory settings, although overall resistance rates and cross-resistance rates in the community setting are low. Based on the available evidence, the risk of potential antimicrobial resistance outweighs the benefit of widespread triclosan use in antimicrobial soaps.

Keywords: antimicrobial soap; bacterial resistance; biocide; triclosan.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Hand / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Soaps / administration & dosage*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triclosan / administration & dosage*


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Soaps
  • Triclosan