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.
||A.Vogel, JASON, Green People, Weleda, Tom's of Maine, Lavera, Kingfisher
||Colgate, Signal White Now, Logodent, Sante, Euthymol, Urtekram, Lush, Boots, Mentadent
||Pearl Drops, Sensodyne, Oral-B, Aquafresh, Arm & Hammer, Blanx, Clinomyn, Theramed, Superdrug, Macleans, Corsodyl
Holland & Barrett's Dr Organic brand also scored worst for toxic chemicals. Read our in-depth article on toxic chemicals.
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
- Tom’s of Maine
Michelle Thew from Cruelty International, explains how test bans are spreading around the world in our feature.
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.
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.
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.
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 ofconsumers have voiced concerns over its alleged effects on human health. 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 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.