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 30 brands of toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Which toothpaste is vegan or vegetarian
  • What ingredients is in my toothpaste?
  • Price comparison
  • Does my toothpaste contain palm oil?
  • Spotlight on Colgate-Palmolive


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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 March/April 2017


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


Best Buys are those brands that score at least middle for supply chain, are organic and/or vegan or vegetarian and get our best rating for animal testing.


Green People toothpastes are all organic and vegan (apart from Fennel and Propolis). 


Kingfisher and Lush are all vegan.Some of Weleda’s are vegan. 


If you want fluoride toothpaste, Kingfisher is the best buy, the other three brands being fluoride free.

to buy

Image: Toothpaste


Image: Kingfisher toothpaste


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Related Content

Read our Special Report into Cosmetics

Last updated: February 2017




Gum crime - the ethics of toothpaste brands


Harris Kaloudis looks at ethical toothpastes and mouthwash

For most of us, the purchase and use of a toothpaste is part of a habitual routine. Oral health and appearance, with its implications for disease, pain, breath odour and self-confidence, are important consumer concerns.

Corporate advertising reinforces these concerns and links them to the consumption of advertised products, sidelining issues such as diet, smoking, genetics and the availability of affordable dental care.

The UK market value for toothpaste is estimated at about half a billion pounds. Which? magazine found over 100 different toothpastes on offer in the UK in 2015 with Colgate alone offering about 45.

Despite the apparent diversity, the toothpaste market is very concentrated. The Colgate Total toothpaste range accounted for almost half the UK market in 2015/16. Sensodyne, made by GlaxoSmithKline, and Oral-B, made by Procter & Gamble, accounted for another 33% of total UK sales.[1] These three companies therefore controlled approximately 80% of the UK market. 


image: toothpaste in ethical shopping guide

In terms of marketing and advertising, the brands that dominate the market portray their products as scientific and technological with unique, specialised ingredients purportedly conferring proven health benefits. For example, Colgate-Palmolive claims that, thanks in part to the anti-bacterial agent ‘triclosan’, Colgate Total is effective in preventing and treating gum disease. Sensodyne focuses on the claimed capacity of its ingredients to reduce tooth sensitivity.

However, some toothpaste ingredients have raised intense debates and controversies on their effects on human health and the environment. ‘Natural’ and ‘herbal’ toothpastes claim to address consumer concerns on ingredient safety by emphasising in their branding the use of plant extracts and non-synthetic substances.

The same brands also tend to focus more on the sourcing of ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ ingredients that are not derived from animals or tested on animals.

In Ethical Consumer’s rating system, natural and herbal toothpaste brands were generally found to have stronger ethical policies, especially in the use of toxic chemicals, animal testing, animal rights, and product sustainability.


Toxic chemicals policy of toothpaste brands

When rating companies for their policies on toxic chemicals, we looked specifically at policies relating to the use of triclosan, parabens and phthalates. 

Table: Toxic policies


Holland & Barrett's Dr Organic brand also scored worst for toxic chemicals. Read our in-depth article on toxic chemicals in our special report into Cosmetics and Toiletries. 


Animal testing by toothpaste brands

The following brands received our best rating for animal testing policy because they were either certified by Cruelty Free International (Leaping Bunny) or they have a fixed cut-off date for animal testing:

  • Green People
  • Kingfisher
  • Weleda
  • Logodent
  • Sante
  • Lush
  • Tom’s of Maine


Michelle Thew from Cruelty International, explains how test bans are spreading around the world. Read this article in our special report into Cosmetics and Toiletries

Animal ingredients

All toothpaste suitable for vegans: Kingfisher, Lush, Urtekram.

All toothpaste suitable for vegetarians and at least one product is vegan: A. Vogel, Green People, JASON, Lavera, Logodent, Superdrug, Weleda

All toothpaste vegetarian: Tom’s of Maine.


Palm oil

In terms of the use and sourcing of palm oil products, the picture is rather more complicated, with some of the natural brands getting a worst rating, and giants Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Henkel, getting a middle. The only two brands with a best rating was A. Vogel and Lush. None of the brands were palm oil free. Read more about palm oil and why its such an issue, in our special report into Cosmetics and Toiletries



Organic toothpaste

Green People, Lavera, Logodent, Dr Organic and Urtekram toothpastes are certified or marketed as organic. 

Green People toothpastes carry the ‘EcoCert – Natural Cosmetics mark’ while Urtekram toothpastes carry the ‘EcoCert – Cosmos Organic’ mark. Lavera toothpastes carry the German BDIH organic mark while Logodent and Dr Organic toothpastes are marketed as organic. 



Fluoride in 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.



Which brands are fluoride-free?


All toothpaste is fluoride free: Green People, Lush, Weleda, A Vogel, Logodent, Euthymol, Urtekram (except for Mint with Fluoride).

Some fluoride free varitieties: Kingfisher, JASON, Tom’s of Maine, Lavera, Sensodyne (only Sensodyne Classic without Fluoride), Boots (only Smile Non-fluoride Freshmint).

All the other brands in the report only sell toothpaste with fluoride in, except for their children’s ‘training toothpastes’ marketed as suitable for young children to safely learn how to brush their teeth.



Triclosan in toothpaste


Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent, first used by surgeons to sterilise their hands, which is still in use in health settings. Triclosan and other anti-bacterial agents have been in widespread use in a surprising array of consumer products including sports clothing, children’s clothing, soft toys, mattresses, deodorant, make-up, skincare lotions, chopping boards, pencils, and kitchen tools.

Concerns over their impact on the environment and on increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics have led more recently to their gradual removal from products. GlaxoSmithKline removed triclosan from its Aquafresh, Sensodyne and Corsodyl toothpaste ranges in 2010 in response to consumer concerns. Colgate Total however still uses triclosan.

The controversy over triclosan was inflamed in September 2016 when the US Food and Drug Administration effectively banned a range of antimicrobial agents including triclosan from hand and body washes. The FDA ruled that the evidence submitted by the manufacturers “were not sufficient for the agency to find that these ingredients are Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective”.

Colgate-Palmolive defends the continuing use of triclosan in Colgate Total on the basis that the toothpaste has been through the FDA’s New Drug Application process and that the clinical research record indicates that the benefits triclosan confers in terms of treating and preventing gum disease are higher than the risks.


Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)

SLS is a foaming agent, that dissolves and disperses dirt, widely used in toothpastes. Its use has been controversial as a number of consumers have voiced concerns over its alleged effects on human health.[8] SLS-free toothpastes are available from, for example, Green People, A. Vogel and Weleda. It is important, however, that concerned consumers check the list of ingredients. SLS and other detergents can often be products of palm oil.




Tooth powder


Tooth powder is uncommon in the UK and is marketed only by a limited number of brands. Lush markets its own version in the form of loose powder and compressed powder ‘tabs’.  

Tooth powder requires less water for its manufacture and therefore being lighter, saves on emissions associated with transportation. Its packaging may avoid the plastic or aluminium-lined tubes that are the norm for toothpaste.



Price comparison for toothpaste

The following table is intended as a snapshot of the different prices of available toothpastes. Prices will vary for different products of the same brand and for different retailers. The table demonstrates that a higher ranking on the Ethical Consumer score table does not necessarily mean a higher price for the product.


Table: Price comparison



Making toothpaste at home

If you wish to be in control of the ingredients going into your toothpaste, or to consume less and generate less packaging waste, making your own toothpaste might be one answer. Making it at home will also make you less reliant for your everyday needs on industrial, mass-marketed products sold at a considerable mark-up by large retailers.

A wealth of books and internet articles offer relevant advice. The most basic recipe seems to be to simply mix bicarbonate of soda with water to the desired consistency. People who have shared their experiences with homemade toothpaste in internet posts note that the taste may initially feel excessively bitter and/or salty. However, after a few uses, they note that this is no longer the case although children may not be easily convinced.

There are also many possible variations and additions to this basic recipe. Instead of water, coconut oil or virgin olive oil can be used as the base ingredient. Bicarbonate of soda can be complemented or substituted by calcium carbonate (dental grade chalk, although vegetarians and vegans need to ensure that this is not sourced from animal bone) or bentonite clay.

For flavouring and health effects people advocate using very small amounts of essential oils such as peppermint, finely cut dried herbs such as sage or powdered dried aromatics like cloves and cinnamon, or stevia leaf powder. The same ingredients without the addition of liquids can form the basis of a tooth powder.




Company Profile


Colgate-Palmolive, the US company behind Colgate, Sanex and Palmolive, is one of the world’s biggest cosmetics and personal care companies and has recently come under severe criticism for its palm oil sourcing.

In November 2016, Amnesty International reported serious human rights abuses on the plantations of Wilmar, one of the world’s largest processors and merchandisers of palm oil products.

These abuses included forced labour and child labour, gender discrimination, as well as exploitative and dangerous working practices that put the health of workers at risk. Colgate-Palmolive was said to have been sourcing palm oil from refineries where the palm oil had been directly supplied or, at the very least, had been mixed with palm oil produced on plantations where there were severe labour rights abuses.

Colgate-Palmolive said none of the products Amnesty International listed contained palm oil from Wilmar’s Indonesia operations. It did not say which of its products did, but acknowledged that it received palm oil from Wilmar refineries that Amnesty International linked to the plantations investigated for the report.

For more information see Colgate-Palmolive company profile page


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1 Mintel Group Ltd (June 2016), Oral Care, UK




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