Ethical shopping guide to Toothpaste, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Toothpaste, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What's in our toothpaste and what harm is it doing to us, animals and the environment?

The report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 28 brands of toothpaste, 12 brands of mouthwash and 3 brands of denture cream
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Which toothpaste is vegan or vegetarian
  • How to make your own toothpaste
  • Which brands to boycott over animal testing
  • Which brands are fluoride free
  • What's wrong with the anti-bacterial ingredient triclosan


This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of Sept/Oct 2012

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the scorecard may have changed since this report was written.


The Best Buys for fluoride-free toothpaste are Green People, Kingfisher, Lush, A. Vogel, Lavera, Urtekram and Weleda.

Lush’s ‘Toothy Tabs’ are solid toothpaste in recycled cardboard rather than plastic or aluminium tubes.

The Best Buy for fluoride toothpaste is Kingfisher.


Mouthwash and denture cream

A Vogel and Weleda are Best Buys for mouthwash whilst if you use denture cream, Dentu-Creme, Poligrip and Steradent all score the same.

to buy



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Gum crime


Colgate toothpaste accounts for nearly half of all UK sales and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (Macleans, Aquafresh and Sensodyne) takes most of the rest.


image: toothpaste in ethical shopping guide 


Triclosan in Colgate Total


Colgate-Palmolive began removing triclosan, a pesticide and fungicide, from its Palmolive washing-up liquid in 2011 amid growing consumer, regulatory and legislative scrutiny of the antibacterial ingredient. But it’s still the key active ingredient to fight gingivitis in Colgate Total toothpaste, a billion-dollar-plus global brand.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved use of triclosan as safe and effective for the prevention of gingivitis in Colgate Total in 1997, and that hasn’t changed. The FDA is currently reviewing the safety of the chemical.

There’s been a notable shift away from triclosan in formulations by most manufacturers of consumer products. For example, GlaxoSmithKline adopted a cautious approach, withdrawing triclosan from its Aquafresh, Sensodyne and Corsodyl range in response to consumer concerns in 2010. Colgate-Palmolive takes the view that the benefits of adding triclosan to its Total range outweigh the risk.

The concern is based on studies about the possible health impacts of triclosan, which the FDA said in 2010 “raise valid concerns about the effect of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients.” Several studies have shown that triclosan disrupts the thyroid hormone in frogs and rats, while others have shown that triclosan alters the sex hormones of laboratory animals. Others studies have shown that triclosan can cause some bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.[1]

We also found triclosan listed as an ingredient in Mentadent P and Mentadent Sensitive – two Unilever brands.




Should I use fluoride toothpaste?


Alternative toothpaste brands tend to avoid fluoride in their formulations. Why is this? We have asked the opinions of three different parties in this recurring debate.


FOR: The British Dental Health Foundation

Fluoride comes from a number of different sources including toothpaste, specific fluoride applications and perhaps the drinking water in your area. These can all help to prevent tooth decay. If you are unsure about using fluoride toothpaste ask your dentist, health visitor or health authority.

All children up to 3 years old, should use a toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1000ppm (parts per million). After three years old, they should use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm-1500ppm. You can check the level of fluoride on the packaging of the toothpaste. Children should be supervised up to the age of 7, and you should make sure that they spit out the toothpaste and don’t swallow any if possible.


AGAINST: Ian Taylor from Green People

 Whilst we acknowledge that fluoride is essential for the proper development of teeth and bones, and plays an important role in the reduction of tooth decay, we do not believe that adding fluoride compounds to toothpaste is a suitable route of administration. This is largely due to the huge variations in dosage levels that can result from this method. For instance, some people use a small amount of toothpaste whilst others may use a lot. Some people spit out the toothpaste and some swallow it. This applies to adults as well as babies and children. These differences mean that the amount of fluoride received each time the teeth are brushed can vary wildly. On top of that, some people brush their teeth just once a day, whilst others may brush three times or more in a day.

Taking these variables into account, the dosage of fluoride achieved by this route of administration is highly unpredictable. Since an excess of fluoride causes mottling of teeth (dental fluorosis) and has been linked to brittle bone disease (skeletal fluorosis) we believe that a more carefully controlled dosage is required. We advise that people who are concerned about fluoride deficiency should consider taking fluoride tablets or drops from a pharmacy.


IN THE MIDDLE: Richard Austin from Kingfisher

Broadly, the dental profession is almost completely in its favour and recommends the use of fluoride especially by young people. There is a small but vociferous lobby against fluoride and they believe that its use is both unnecessary and motivated by business interests. You can find lots of information about both views on the web.

It’s worth remembering that fluoride is a poison and needs treating with respect. There are many poisons that we use to our benefit that are harmful if misused. So the topical use of fluoride might be viewed as good by those who feel that the fluoridation of water is not.

When I started Kingfisher in 1988 I asked the advice of one of the health advisers to the Labour Party. He gave me a lot of reading to do and strongly recommended that we make our toothpaste with fluoride. This we did but after a year or so, when we could afford it, we introduced a fluoride-free alternative. These days we offer a range as fluoride-free but offer the two basic varieties, Fennel and Mint, with fluoride options.




Fluoride-free brands


The following brands are exclusively fluoride free:

A. Vogel, Green People, Euthymol, Lavera, Lush, Urtekram, Weleda.


The following brands make fluoride-free varieties:

JASON, Kingfisher, Sensodyne Original, Tom’s of Maine.


All the other brands in the report contain fluoride.




Make it yourself


Dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water to make your own toothpaste (undiluted baking soda can be tough on your enamel).


Vegan brands:

Green People, Kingfisher, Lush, Lavera.


Vegetarian brands:

Weleda, JASON, Tom's of Maine





Company Profile


Colgate-Palmolive scores worst for its palm oil policy, animal testing policy and supply chain management and middle for its environmental reporting. It is the subject of a boycott call from Uncaged over its animal testing policy. It also has subsidiaries in six oppressive regimes (China, Colombia, Honduras, India, Philippines and Venezuela) and seven tax havens (Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Ireland, Panama, Philippines, Singapore and Uruguay).

 For more information see Colgate-Palmolive company profile page


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This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.

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