Toothpaste

In this guide, we investigate, score, and rank the ethical and environmental record of 38 brands of toothpaste and mouthwash.

We also look at toxic ingredients, vegan brands, spotlight on Colgate-Palmolive, and give our recommended buys.

About 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying toothpaste:

  • Is it cruelty-free? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. The Cruelty-Free logo guarantees that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

  • Is it vegan? Surprisingly, lots of toothpaste brands use animal products. To minimise damage to the environmental and animal rights, go for a vegan brand.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying toothpaste:

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists for toothpaste products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health.

  • Do they use palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably.

  • Does the manufacturer use microbeads? Although these tiny pieces of plastics are now banned in the UK, lots of cosmetics companies use them in products elsewhere in the world. They are disastrous for marine-life, so avoid these companies.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

We obviously want our toothpaste to look after our teeth but it's even better when its ethics also gives us something to smile about. We have rated companies on their animal-testing policies and taken a look at what animal ingredients might be hidden in your toothpaste so you can find the best cruelty-free and vegan options. We also explore the environmental impact of toothpaste, including the use of palm oil.

We also look at how well companies have been performing in terms of reducing their use of toxic chemicals and find that, at least in relation to toothpaste, significant progress has been made in relation to triclosan.

Image: Toothpaste

How to find the most environmentally friendly toothpastes

We don’t want the health of our mouth to come at the expense of the health of our planet. Considering that toothpaste is something that pretty much everyone in the UK buys the environmental costs can add up. We take a look at key environmental issues in relation to toothpaste, covering palm oil, organic certification, packaging, toxic chemicals, and microplastics.

Palm oil free toothpaste

The devastating effects the global demand for palm oil is having on our rainforests and the wildlife and people that live there has made it a highly controversial ingredient. It is also commonly found in toothpaste but it is possible to avoid it or choose companies that have better sourcing practices.
 

Palm oil free toothpastes from palm oil free companies Georganics, Truthpaste 
Palm oil free toothpastes

A. Vogel – (A. Vogel only used palm oil in one food product and received a best rating for palm oil sourcing overall)

Lush Toothy Tabs – (Lush Cosmetics uses palm oil but get a best rating for palm oil sourcing overall)

Toothpastes that may contain palm oil but are made by companies with our best rating for palm oil sourcing Weleda, Sante

Organic toothpaste

The term organic can become a bit vague, especially in cosmetics where you don’t need to certify your product to describe it as organic. Its not uncommon to see products generally described as natural and organic without it being that clear what this means, which can make it confusing for consumers.

The following toothpastes were certified organic:

It’s also worth saying that while Truthpaste’s toothpastes as a whole were not certified, it did provide full ingredients lists with its products and the majority of these were marked as certified organic.

Plastic-free toothpaste packaging

According to Recycle Now toothpaste tubes are not widely recycled because they are made from different types of plastic as well as aluminium, which makes any recycling process more complicated. Colgate and Terracycle have teamed up to offer a recycling scheme for all oral care products but, while recycling is an improvement, it does not adequately address the problem with plastic packaging as plastic cannot be infinitely recycled and will still break up and remain in the environment. It also relies on consumers to use the scheme.

Truthpaste and Georganics are the only companies in this guide that sell their toothpastes in glass jars. In fact, both companies use minimal to no plastic across their entire operations and certainly none of the products themselves come with any plastic packaging.

Toxic chemicals policy of toothpaste brands (scores are based on whole company group)

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

Best rating JASÖN, Weleda, Lavera, Kingfisher, Georganics, Truthpaste, A.Vogel*, Green People*, Colgate*
Middle rating Sante*, Euthymol*, Listerine*, Urtekram*, Lush*, Signal*, Mentadent*, Logodent*, Oral-B*
Worst rating Pearl Drops*, Sensodyne*, Aquafresh*, Arm & Hammer*, BlanX*, Clinomyn*, Theramed*, Superdrug*, Macleans*, Corsodyl*, Eucryl*, Sarakan*, Polygrip*, Dr Organic*, Biotene*, Boots*.

* These companies also lost half a mark under Pollution and Toxics for having inadequate policies on microplastics and liquid polymers
 

Is it the end for 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 antibacterial 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.

It has also been commonly used in toothpaste. Concerns over their impact on the environment and on increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics led to calls to remove triclosan from products.

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”.

GlaxoSmithKline removed triclosan from its Aquafresh, Sensodyne and Corsodyl toothpaste ranges in 2010 in response to consumer concerns. Proctor & Gamble’s Oral-B toothpaste is also triclosan-free.

In 2017 Time magazine described Colgate as the only brand still using triclosan in its toothpaste. Despite continuing to insist that triclosan is safe, Colgate stopped using triclosan in its products in January 2019 (although be aware that the last of the old formula still seems to be available in some shops).

A search of the Superdrug and Boots websites, which sold a lot of brands and listed ingredients, appeared to suggest that triclosan in toothpastes is indeed a thing of the past! However, that does not mean that companies are not still using it in other products.
 

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.

This is mainly related to things like skin-irritation, and the potential to worsen some mouth conditions such as ulcers or ‘dry-mouth’. SLS-free toothpastes are available from, for example, Green People, Georganics, and Kingfisher. It is important, however, that concerned consumers check the list of ingredients. SLS and other detergents can often be products of palm oil.
 

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Fluoride in toothpaste

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

In favour of fluoride: 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 the use of fluoride: 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.
 

Not in favour of, or against fluoride: 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.

Cruelty free toothpaste

Animal testing is obviously a key issue for any personal care products. The following brands received our best rating for animal testing policy because they were either certified by Cruelty Free International (Leaping Bunny) or they had a fixed cut-off date for animal testing:

Vegan Toothpaste

It’s not just animal testing that you have to look out as many toothpaste can also contain animal ingredients. Many toothpastes list glycerin as an ingredient which, while it can come from vegetable oil, can also be derived from animals. It often appears in the ingredients list simply as ‘glycerin’ and does not say what it is derived from, despite that being important information for both vegetarians and vegans.

While many companies now offer at least one type of vegan toothpaste, the entire range of the following toothpastes are clearly labelled or certified as vegan. We also state whether the whole company group is vegan, vegetarian or neither.

Vegan company Truthpaste - vegan company with all products approved by the Vegan Society
Vegetarian company Georganic, Kingfisher, Green People, Lush
Neither vegan nor vegetarian Lavera (company group Laverana GmbH), Sarakan (company group G.R. Lane) , Urtekram (company group Midsona)

 The score table above marks products with a ‘V’ or a ‘Vg’ when they were clearly marketed as vegetarian or vegan but only the vegan products were awarded positive Product Sustainability marks.

Marketing and advertising in the toothpaste industry

The UK market value for toothpaste is estimated at about half a billion pounds, and while there are hundreds of toothpaste products easily available the market is dominated by three main companies, Colgate taking by far the largest share.

In 2018 an estimated 33.3 million people in the UK were using Colgate and there are over 50 different products offered on its website. GlaxoSmithKline (Aquafresh, Sensodyne, Macleans and more) and Proctor & Gamble (Oral-B) also have a significant percentage of the market.

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 offers their products as the main solution, side-lining issues such as diet, smoking, genetics and the availability of affordable dental care.

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, in 2018, a Colgate advert was banned by the Advertising Standards Agency for making misleading claims that a product “repairs teeth instantly”, according to the BBC this is the fifth dental product advert Colgate has had banned in the last seven years.

Some toothpaste ingredients have raised intense debates and controversies on their effects on human health and the environment, such as triclosan and Sodium Laurel Sulphate (discussed below).

Natural, herbal and organic toothpastes can address consumer concerns on ingredient safety by emphasising in their branding the use of plant extracts and non-synthetic substances.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.

Although be careful as these terms can be used loosely and end up being just as misleading. For example, sometimes companies use the term ‘organic’ in a general way to refer to ingredients which are non-synthetic or plant based (rather than ones grown without chemicals) or place the emphasis on one or two natural or organic ingredients even while the rest of the ingredients might be anything but!

Always look for claims backed up with certifications, transparent ingredient lists and clear policies on what ingredients a company will not use.

Making toothpaste at home

While it is great to see more kinds of toothpaste coming onto the market that are using ethically sourced, natural ingredients in plastic-free packaging, they can be a little on the pricey side. If you wish to spend less but still 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.

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. Although, if you are trying to reduce your packaging you now have the task of finding some zero-waste bi-carb.

People who have shared their experiences with homemade toothpaste in internet posts say 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.

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.

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. The same ingredients without the addition of liquids can form the basis of a tooth powder.

As it is pretty undisputed that fluoride is essential for healthy teeth and preventing cavities you should seek expert advice (dentist, pharmacist) about how to ensure you get the recommended amounts of fluoride.

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. 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 but acknowledged that it received palm oil from Wilmar refineries that Amnesty International linked to the plantations investigated for the report.

In March 2018 Greenpeace International released its report called “Moment of truth: time for brands to come clean about their links to forest destruction for palm oil”. At the start of 2018, Greenpeace International challenged 16 companies to demonstrate their progress towards a clean palm oil supply chain. Whilst Colgate Palmolive was one of the eight companies which had responded to Greenpeace’s challenge, they concluded, 'Although most traders had published "no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation" policies, there were serious problems with their implementation'.

They cited ‘inconsistent standards, questionable enforcement and non-existent deadlines’ as such problems. Not only was the palm oil industry not working to the 2020 deadline set by brands, but it also did not even have a common timeline for delivering a palm oil supply free from deforestation and other social and environmental harms.”

While the company has made some improvements since we last updated the toothpaste guide such as bringing out a vegan and organic certified toothpaste and removing triclosan from all its products, with a score of 3.5 it still has a long way to go.
 

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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