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Ingredients in Toothpaste: Toxic Chemicals, Artificial Colors and More

Updated on September 4, 2014
Photo by:  thegreenj
Photo by: thegreenj

Toxic Toothpaste

There are toxic ingredients... in my toothpaste? Unfortunately, yes. Typical grocery store toothpaste brands like Crest, Aquafresh, and Arm & Hammer contain ingredients like titanium dioxide, carrageenan, sodium lauryl sulfate and glycerin that range from mildly disturbing to potentially harmful. Even "natural" brands like Tom's of Maine and J/A/S/O/N could be better.

Like bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, and laundry soap, toothpaste is a product that most of us use at least once a day. Since we use toothpaste so frequently, shouldn't it be an extremely safe product?

Toothpaste should be safe, but it isn't. In a world where autoimmune diseases, cancer, allergies, and other disorders are on the rise, it makes sense to reduce your exposure to toxins as much as possible. Nobody is perfect, but switching from a store-bought, toxic toothpaste to a nearly free, and very safe, toothpaste is an easy and healthy step that anyone can do!

Two Harmful - And Very Common - Ingredients in Toothpaste

Toothpaste contains many questionable ingredients (if you can't pronounce 'em, don't eat 'em!), and two of them stand out most of all. One, carrageenan, is actually a toxic ingredient. Glycerin is not as toxic, but it should not be in toothpaste because it actually makes your teeth less healthy!

Carrageenan: Carrageenan is an extremely common food additive. It is frequently found in dairy products, almond and soy milk, granola bars, and many other processed foods. Carrageenan is derived from seaweed, but it has no nutritional value whatsoever. In fact, scientists have been calling attention to the negative health effects of carrageenan for years. Carrageenan causes inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to intestinal pain, ulcers, colon cancer and more. There is debate about how much carrageenan is safe for humans to ingest, so use your best judgement when it comes to including carrageenan in your diet.

Glycerin: Glycerin is a filler of sorts, a thick, sticky material that makes toothpaste "pastey" rather than watery. Glycerin is also sweet, and many people don't know that it is used in food products as a sweetener. The downside of filling toothpaste with a sticky goo is that some of that sticky goo continues to stick to your teeth even after you finish brushing. Glycerin residue on your teeth can encourage the bad bacteria to stick to your teeth, causing cavities.

Sample Store-Bought Toothpaste: Ingredients in Colgate Optic White Toothpaste, Cool Mild Mint

The Environmental Working Group maintains an excellent website where you can check the safety of a plethora of health and beauty products like sunscreen, moisturizer, shampoo, and more. You can also learn about the safety of other products you use in your home.

Using Colgate Optic White Toothpaste (Cool Mild Mint) as an example, here is what the Environmental Working Group had to say about the toxicity of its ingredients (ingredient followed by possible harmful effects):

Butylated Hydroxytoluene: Cancer, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)

Hydrogen Peroxide: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Occupational hazards, Use restrictions

PEG/PPG116/66 Copolymer: Ecotoxicology, Contamination concerns, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Persistence and bioaccumulation

PEG-12: Contamination concerns, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)

Propylene Glycol: Enhanced skin absorption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: Ecotoxicology, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions

Sodium Saccharine: Multiple, additive exposure sources

PVP: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)

Other ingredients have been left out for length, including "innocuous" ingredients like water. Don't feel bad if you had no idea that such harmful ingredients were lurking on your bathroom counter; most people don't scrutinize the ingredients of something so common as toothpaste! Note the inclusion of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which is in most shampoos and dish soaps. It's been banned in Europe, but not in the United States!

Simple, Healthy, Homemade Toothpaste

If you've stopped using conventional toothpastes, and even the so-called "natural" brands contain glycerin and carrageenan, what can you do?

The answer is beautifully simple: Make your own toothpaste! The recipe below is incredibly forgiving; you don't even need to measure the baking soda and the coconut oil. Simply mix them together until you get a consistency that you like. The essential oils can be modified, too. Tea tree is a great anti-bacterial, and peppermint smells like traditional toothpaste. Feel free to use any essential oils that you think would benefit your mouth; just make sure to research their safety before you add them to your toothpaste.

Basic Homemade Toothpaste Recipe

To make your own, great-tasting toothpaste at home, simply combine:

3 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespoons baking soda

10-20 drops peppermint essential oil, to taste

This recipe is completely customizable to your preferences, and it's very forgiving. If it seems too wet, add more baking soda, and if it seems too dry, add more coconut oil. You can use different essential oils like tea tree (anti-bacterial and anti-viral), cinnamon, and more. Just be careful not to add too much... use less than you think you need, and then add more if necessary.


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    • kikihinsch profile image

      K. L. Richardson 4 years ago

      It really is sad. And of course it's not just carrageenan; there are so many other additives that the FDA allows in our food and products that are illegal any most of the EU and Asia. It's frightening. If you're interested, check out "Rich Food, Poor Food"; gave me quite a scare.

    • hazelbrown profile image

      hazelbrown 4 years ago from Central PA

      Nope, don't mind at all! I started finding carrageenan in so many non-toothpaste foods... it makes me sad! :-(

    • kikihinsch profile image

      K. L. Richardson 4 years ago

      Thank you for this post. I have been looking into the overabundance of dangerous additives, namely, carrageenen, being added to food and came across this article while doing research for my own hub. I referenced your article in my post. Hope you don't mind.

    • icmn91 profile image

      icmn91 4 years ago from Australia

      Very informative. I have had minimal problems with my teeth to date but I sometimes do question what dentists have to say. Well written and useful.