A new study has pinpointed the antimicrobial agent triclosan as a promoter of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in human nasal passages, which may pose a risk for infection.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, triclosan is a man-made agent found in common items like toothpastes, kitchen surface cleaners, soaps, clothes, and even medical devices. In the study, researchers found that triclosan was found in the noses of 41 percent of study participants.

“Triclosan has been used as a biocide for over 40 years, but the broader effects that it has on the human microbiome have not been investigated,” the authors of the study wrote. Blaise Boles, author of the study and an assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at University of Michigan, notes that triclosan has been used frequently in myriads of antibacterial household products, but that there is little to no evidence that “it does a better job than regular soap,” he said in a press release. Indeed, triclosan is so incorporated into our common items that some studies have actually found traces of it in human urine, milk, and serum. When high concentrations of triclosan are found in the endocrine system, it can be damaging to the heart and skeletal muscle function — not to mention that when it accumulates in the nasal passages, it can lead to potential staph infections.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that is often found in the respiratory tract or skin and is a common source of skin infections, food poisoning, and respiratory disease. Strains of Staphylococcus that cause diseases usually produce protein toxins and cell-surface proteins that inactivate antibodies. Additionally, resistant strains of the bacteria exist, which poses a significant problem in the medical world.

However, since it’s so common in skin and noses, S. aureus exists in about 30 percent of the population, the authors wrote in their abstract. When triclosan is also found in people’s noses, it can assist S. aureus in hosting proteins and colonization, which may ultimately lead to infection.

“In light of the significant use of triclosan in consumer products and its widespread environmental contamination, our data combined with previous studies showing impacts of triclosan on the endocrine system and muscle function suggest that a reevaluation of triclosan in consumer products is urgently needed,” the authors wrote. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likewise has stated in the past that it does not have evidence to show that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and products is more beneficial than regular soap and water.

Source: Syed A, Ghosh S, Love N, Boles B. “Triclosan Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Nasal Colonization.” mBio. 2014.