Goodguide Ranks Triclosan Containing Antimicrobial Q-Tips As Top Baby Product

Last week, the GoodGuide tweeted a link to its top rated baby products. So of course I checked out GoodGuide’s Best Baby Care Products. I was disappointed to see that several of the top rated products had ingredients I considered suspect or potentially of concern. I tweeted back to the Good Guide several comments and concerns about the list, and the Good Guide has contacted me and we are going to discuss my concerns. So I’ll save my post about why the purportedly Best Baby Care Products really aren’t until after we have a chance to have that conversation. However, one of the top rated products was Q-tips Cotton Swabs, Antimicrobial (listed as the number 12 top baby product).

Now, when any product contains to be antibacterial, it grabs my interest. You see, the EPA’s pesticide regulations govern claims regarding consumer products treated with pesticides.  Generally, antibacterial claims mean that the product is treated with triclosan. And triclosan has some potentially significant problems. Triclosan has been linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt thyroid function. Triclosan also ends up in our aquatic environments because wastewater treatment plants can’t fully address the triclsoan load. And in the environment, triclosan is disruptive .

The GoodGuide gives Q-tips Cotton Swabs, Antimicrobial a “10” in Health. The Health portion of the score relates to the potential health effects of the product’s ingredients. The ingredients identified by GoodGuide  (from the product’s label) consist solely of 100% cotton. Yet, cotton doesn’t have any antimicrobial properties, so I sent off an email to inquire what made the  Q-tips antibacterial.

And, yes, I was right. The cotton swabs are treated with triclosan.

In fact, here is the response I received from my “friends at Q-Tips”:

Thank you for writing us regarding Q-Tips.

Swab made with 100% high quality bleached cotton specially carded to provide softness and 50% more cotton at the tip (Package carries “Seal of Cotton” logo).

The cotton tip is treated with an “antimicrobial” ingredient and is secured to the applicator with adhesive. The antimicrobial system is incorporated during the cotton swabs forming process.

Antimicrobial system/Processing aid consists of:

– Triclosan is the Antimicrobial

– Methocel is the binder

The incorporation of an antibacterial agent will help prevent the introduction of bacteria, mold and fungi during use and when exposed to potential contamination and environmental conditions (i.e. high humidity and termperature) conducive to bacterial growth and proliferation in storage or use.

So, I disagree with the GoodGuide giving this product top billing as a safe baby product. Any product with triclosan show receive a lower rating because of triclosan’s impact to the environment. In this case, the triclosan content may be low, and there may not be much exposure given how Q-tips are used, but there is still triclosan present, and parents may not expect it. And while the triclosan may be added to prevent contamination of the swab (and thereby exempting Unilever from the requirements of registering the triclosan as a pesticide), the packaging claim of antibacterial probably gives parents and caregivers the impression that using these Q-tips will prevent the transmission of disease. I don’t think that parents or caregivers should be encouraged to use these triclosan-containing Q-tips over conventional Q-tips (and if you are going to use conventional Q-tips, why not go for a green solution . . . )

So, to the GoodGuide, I encourage you to examine the products you are recommending and don’t just rely on the numbers. Put some thought into it.

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  1. Yuck! I can’t imagine putting triclosan directly into my baby’s ear or nose. Working on WVE’s report on disinfectants opened my eyes on how pervasive these antimicrobial chemicals are, and in danger of overuse. Antimicrobial socks, even!

  2. I cannot really trust the Good Guide after seeing this. Yuck, I’m with Sian Wu on this one.

  3. Count my vote as a ‘yuck!’ too. Thank you for posting this! Anytime I see the word antimicrobial or flags pop up immediately!

    Hmm..wondering if the tips has been treated with silver..would that be any safer?

  4. Nanoparticle silver is now starting to be linked to a host of negative health effects, so I would recommend just plain (untreated) Q-tips if you need them. Better yet, pick up some of the “green” cotton swabs. But keep in mind always proper use of cotton swabs.

  5. I had the same experience on Good Guide… makes me wonder where they get their funding…

    difference between Good Guide and EWG’s skin deep … Good Guide is a for-profit and EWG is a non-profit, whether this makes a difference or not, I’m not sure…

    You cannot pay to get a listing in EWG’s skin deep but you can pay to get your products in Good Guide

  6. I’ve also noticed that the range of products GoodGuide chooses to review is suspect. Maybe it’s because they haven’t gotten around to doing more in a category, but in the areas I looked at, they seemed to favor mass consumer brands without evaluating some of the smaller, healthier/safer brands. I, like, Erin, definitely question their bias, whether from ad or investor dollars. Is this public information anywhere?

  7. Intriguing. Wouldn’t it be the most practical for Good Guide to address issues that affect (effect?) the most people, that being the “mass produced” stuff. It’s neat that they can tell me about some small company product in Maine but I NEED to know about Old Spice because that’s what I, and millions of others, happen to use.

    as for the bias…hmm…this all sounds rather suspicious in it’s lack of any concrete data. Lot of gut reactions going on here. Post more when you hear back from them.

  8. probiotic says:

    surprised and dismayed that goodguide has not yet rectified this listing– it's still listed as 10/10 for health after 8 months. did they ever get back to you?

  9. thesmartmama says:

    I've had some exchanges with GoodGuide but no willingness to change this listing.

  10. probiotic says:

    surprised and dismayed that goodguide has not yet rectified this listing– it’s still listed as 10/10 for health after 8 months. did they ever get back to you?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’ve had some exchanges with GoodGuide but no willingness to change this listing.


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