Eco-friendly & safe toothpaste (without microbeads, triclosan or other harmful chemicals)

Do you normally check your toothpaste for hazardous ingredients before you buy it?

If you don’t, you’re not to blame. You probably didn’t know that it may contain harmful chemicals.

Toothpaste is by far one of the most commonly used personal-care products – most of us use it at least twice a day (hopefully).

In addition, toothpaste is probably the only product that we don’t exclusively use externally.

smiling woman white teeth
Dental hygiene supports a beautiful smile – but without any harmful toothpaste, please (Photo: Lesly Juarez)

Through the mouth and its mucous membranes (and through swallowing parts of it), we have very intimate contact with this hygiene product on a daily basis.

Reason enough to take a closer look at the quality and health aspects of that paste which is closer to us than any other.

In this post, we’ll first show you which substances are considered questionable and potentially even hazardous to health and how you can identify them (and thus avoid them).

Then we will show you the best alternative toothpastes that are free from harmful ingredients and which you can use without hesitation.

Controversial ingredients in most toothpastes

Most people read the ingredients list of their food before they enjoy it.

But do you know what’s in your toothpaste?

Ok, granted – toothpaste is not a food.

Nevertheless, you put it several times a day in your mouth, swallow parts of it and thus absorb it regularly into your body.

So it’s well worth knowing what’s actually in your toothpaste – especially since quite a few of the commonly used ingredients in most toothpastes are questionable (to say the least). So let’s take a closer look.

PEG makes your skin more permeable – also for harmful substances

PEG – a.k.a. Polyethylene glycol – is a polymer and very popular carrier of active substances in cosmetics and pharmacy.

Synonymous terms are macrogol, polyethylene oxide or PEO – in foods it is often listed under its E number 1521.

woman brushes teeth in front of mirror
PEG is completely superfluous in toothpaste (Photo: Phuong Tran)

PEG is very soluble in water and can be produced in a liquid, pasty or firm consistency.

PEG is non-toxic, chemically inert (i.e. does not react with other substances), non-volatile and biodegradable.

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad – so what’s the problem with PEG?

PEG has a penetration-enhancing effect – meaning it makes the skin and mucous membranes more permeable to active ingredients. Unfortunately, also for harmful or toxic substances.

So although there is no direct danger from PEG itself, its use in cosmetics is controversial due to this property.

Especially if harmful substances are known to be present in the toothpaste anyway (as we shall see shortly), PEG promotes their assimilation from the toothpaste foam into the body.

Irritating surfactants – sodium lauryl sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant widely used in many cleaning agents – and in toothpaste.

sodium lauryl sulfate hazard sign
Corrosive – official hazard marking of Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate in the GESTIS database

Other names for this chemical are sodium dodecyl sulfate, SLS or SDS (abbreviations for “sodium lauryl sulfate” and “sodium dodecyl sulfate”).

Sodium lauryl sulfate is irritating to the skin and is considered to be allergenic. It is used in toothpastes as a foaming agent.

The following warning can be found for Sodium dodecyl sulfate in the GESTIS substance database of the German Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

“Acute or chronic health hazards result from the substance.”

Toothpaste containing this substance can even trigger mouth ulcers in sensitive people.

Parabens – questionable preservatives

Parabens have antimicrobial and fungicidal properties and are therefore popular preservatives in food, cosmetics and the pharmaceutics.

Preservatives, in general, are important because they protect us from dangerous germs. Many products would otherwise only have a very short shelf-life without refrigeration.

The question, however, is whether these preservatives themselves pose a potential health risk.

Parabens are controversial because many of them can trigger allergies.

In addition, parabens – much like phthalates – can upset your hormone balance because they resemble the human hormone estrogen.

Although there are threshold values which the EU Commission considers safe for some parabens, others have already been banned EU-wide as preservatives.

For example, as of 2015, propylparaben and butylparaben are no longer allowed to be used in diaper and skincare products for children – e.g. ointments for baby bottoms. However, they are still allowed in other products.

So if we don’t put parabens on our baby’s skin for health reasons, do we really want to put them in our mouths every day? Especially since there are harmless alternatives (which we’ll see in a moment).

Triclosan – dangerous microbizide

Triclosan is a disinfectant which is commonly used in medical practices and hospitals to prevent the spread of pathogens.

But it is also widely used in household cleaners and cosmetics such as deodorants, soaps – and toothpaste.

woman with common cold
Triclosan can cause antibiotics to stop working when we really need them

The problem with that: due to the low concentration in household and cosmetic products, there’s a significant risk that this wide-spread use of triclosan promotes the development of resistant germs.

Because the way triclosan and antibiotics affect bacteria is quite similar, the bacteria are very likely to develop a cross-resistance and therefore become resistant to antibiotics.

In order not to promote the spread of resistant pathogens, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has been recommending for years that triclosan should not be used in the household.

A study from 2017 has also shown that Triclosan accumulates in large amounts in the bristles of the toothbrush, and is released from them even after switching to a triclosan-free toothpaste.

So be sure to change your toothbrush (or toothbrush head) as well if you switch to a triclosan-free toothpast.

In the U.S., triclosan has been banned in soap products since September 2016 – after its use had been classified as dangerous and unnecessary for years by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

However, the use of triclosan is still allowed in many other personal hygiene products we use on a daily basis – including toothpaste.

Avoid toothpaste with microplastics (and report products)

Not only peels, shower gels or soaps got it: microplastics.

They are commonly used as a scrubbing, emulsifying or filling agent.

These small microbeads are also often used in toothpaste as abrasive particles – with devastating consequences to our health and environment. (By the way, check out our in-depth article on the health risks of plastic.)

Due to the small size of microplastic particles (no more than 5 mm, or even in liquid form), they cannot be filtered out by the sewage treatment plants and thus get into our rivers unhindered – and from there into our lakes and oceans.

Once they got there, they permanently cause massive damage – and ultimately come back to us through the food chain – right into our bodies.

The following short video shows the invisible danger microplastics pose to us and our environment:

The underrated dangers of microplastics

Microplastics or nano-plastics in cosmetic and personal care products are not only harmful to the environment and health – but also completely superfluous.

There are a number of natural, biodegradable alternatives that can be used instead (all toothpastes we’ll show you at the end of this article are of course microplastic free).

For example, finely ground nut or fruit shells, as well as mineral substances such as chalk, lime, clay or silicate, can serve perfectly well as alternative and ecological cleansing particles.

So how can you tell if a toothpaste contains microplastics?

For one thing, it’s best to always look directly at the list of ingredients on the back of the product packaging. Because a variety of plastics is used for microbeads, look out for the following ingredients:

AbbreviationType of plastic
PEPolyethylene
PPPolypropylene
PETPolyethylene terephthalate
PMMAPolymethyl methacrylate
PAPolyamide / Nylon
PESPolyester
PSPolystyrene

If you find any of these plastics in your toothpaste (or any other personal care product, for that matter), better leave it in the store.

Keep in mind that these are just the most commonly used microplastics, there are at least 67 plastics known to be used as microplastics, here is the full list.

“How am I to remember all those complicated names, I’m not a chemist?!”, you say?

Well, fret not!

There is actually a very simple rule of thumb that anyone can easily remember:

Look out for “Poly“!

toothbrush with toothpaste
Toothpaste with microplastics harms our environment and our health

Because as you can see from that full list, each and every one of those 67 plastics starts with or contains “Poly” (save one exception).

Easy enough, right? So from now on, simply scan the ingredients for “Poly” and stay away from products where you find it (double check with that full list when in doubt).

Check public product lists to avoid microplastics

Another easy way to identify and steer clear of products containing microplastics is to check out this product list. It’s part of the “beat the microbead” campaign by the Plastic Soup Foundation, supported by dozens of NGOs worldwide.

Simply look for your country and click on the red and orange buttons to see all the products which you want to avoid since they contain microplastics.

If you discover a product that contains microplastics but is not listed there, you can report it here. By doing so, you support the foundation and help others to avoid microplastics as well.

Instead, go for products found behind the green button or, even better, those which carry the “Look for the Zero” logo.

Toothpaste with or without fluoride – are fluorides useful or poisonous?

Unlike all the ingredients just mentioned above, which you can (and should) do without, the use of fluoride is often discussed controversially.

More and more dubious claims about fluorides are spreading online lately, some of which are rather conspiracy theories than facts. According to those claims, fluoride is supposed to be “unnatural”, “a means of population control”, or allegedly “one of the most toxic substances in the world”.

Unsurprisingly, there is virtually no evidence backing these allegations, let alone reliable studies.

So what do the actual scientific facts have to say about fluoride?

First of all, it is important to distinguish between the gas fluorine and its salt fluoride. While the first is indeed highly toxic, the latter is absolutely harmless in the amounts used in toothpaste when used as intended.

toothpaste on toothbrush
Toothpaste with or without fluoride?

It is also anything but “unnatural”. The human body naturally contains fluorides, especially in the bones and also in the dental enamel. What’s more, we regularly absorb it through a variety of sources anyway, e.g. through our food and drinking water.

Some countries – Germany for example – have no fluoridated drinking water (unlike the USA, among others), which is why the average intake of fluoride in the German population is noticeably lower than in the U.S..

Interestingly enough, the decline in caries in the 1970s was especially pronounced in countries that had no drinking water with added fluoride. The reason for that decline was that the widespread use of fluoride in toothpastes began during that time.

Can you poison yourself with fluoride in toothpaste?

If you are really eager to – yes, you can. You would have to eat the entire contents of about 20 toothpaste tubes in one go (don’t do that).

child laughing teeth
For healthy children’s teeth there is special toothpaste containing less fluoride (Photo: S & B Vonlanthen)

But that’s not a convincing argument – because as with many things, the dose makes the poison. For example, you could also poison yourself with table salt. Nevertheless, very few people would label salt as “poisonous” because of that.

But what about the warnings that children should not use toothpastes for adults?

This is also often taken as “proof” of the toxicity of fluoride – children would allegedly poison themselves otherwise.

The truth is that children could develop something called fluorosis if their fluoride intake is too high. This can cause white spots or streaks on their teeth – which is more of a cosmetic concern than a real health risk.

Benefits of fluoride – proven caries protection

Fluoride used in toothpaste has been well-researched for decades, and there is a rare consensus among experts: fluoride is extremely important and effective in the treatment and prevention of tooth decay.

Toothpastes that do not contain fluoride often use herbal extracts or the sugar substitute Xylitol instead. However, there is simply not enough high-quality evidence that Xylitol can substitute fluoride to prevent tooth decay.

woman bites on chocolate
Xylitol supports caries prophylaxis – and may therefore reduce or prevent the harm done by sweet delights

It does seem, however, that people get fewer cavities when chewing gums that are sweetened with Xylitol instead of sugar. This is most likely due to the fact that caries-causing bacteria cannot metabolize it.

Xylitol may, therefore, be a reasonable alternative to conventional (sugary) chewing gum, although it may not be a full-fledged substitute for fluoridated toothpaste.

Conclusion: there is absolutely no reason to avoid fluoride-containing toothpastes for health reasons. Toothpaste for adults contains at most 1500 ppm, which is 0.15% – most of which you spit out again anyway.

If you use your toothpaste as intended (and don’t eat whole tubes for breakfast and dinner), then they pose absolutely no health risk. On the contrary, fluoride has been shown to be the most effective substance to prevent tooth decay.

In case you are still skeptical despite the evidence of fluoride’s benefits, there are also fluoride-free toothpastes available (more on this in a moment). Although you might be taking a risk with them when it comes to caries prevention, the option is there – it’s for you to decide.

The best alternative toothpastes without any harmful substances

All toothpastes listed below are free of harmful or controversial chemicals. In addition, we have selected toothpastes both with and without fluoride – so you can choose the toothpaste which best suits you.

Auromere Ayurvedic Toothpaste

auromere-ayurvedic-toothpaste
Auromere ayurvedic herbal toothpaste

Auromere’s fluoride-free toothpaste is as natural as it gets – packed with herbal extracts to the brim and totally free of any nasty chemicals.

Specifally, it is vegan, free of artificial colors, dyes or bleaches, parabens, sweeteners or any of the potentially (or actually) harmful substances mentioned earlier in this article.

Another thing to note is that Auromere is owned and run by a non-profit yoga organisation. Proceeds go to the upkeep and activities of yoga communities in the U.S. and India.

What’s more, 10% of the profits from all Auromere products are donated to the support and development of Auroville, the bio-sustainable “City of Human Unity”.

Jasön Healthy Mouth toothpaste

Jason toothpaste
Jasön Healthy Mouth toothpaste

If you’d rather stick to the proven benefits of fluoride when it comes to preventing tooth decay, then Jasön Healthy Mouth may be the right choice for you.

It is free of any of the above mentioned harmful chemicals like SLS, parabens or microplastics.

Instead, botanicals (like grapefruit seed extract), cinnamon and tea tree make sure your oral health and breath stay top-notch.

Founded in 1959, all Jasön products stand for no-nonsense products, free of questionable ingredients and not tested on animals.

Himalaya Complete Care Toothpaste

Himalaya botanique toothpaste
Himalaya Complete Care tooth paste

Himalaya’s fluoride-free toothpaste is another great choice if you’re looking for an all-natural toothpaste.

Having it’s roots in Ayurveda, the company was founded in the 1930s and has since integrated the ancient ayurvedic knowledge into a science-based process.

No triclosan, SLS, parabens or any other substances of concern are to be found in this tartar removing toothpaste.

Instead, pomegranate, neem and peppermint leave you with clean teeth and fresh breath.

Conclusion – what toothpaste should I use?

There is no reason to keep harming your health or our environment with the chemicals in most conventional toothpastes.

A quick glance at the ingredients reveals the questionable substances mentioned in this article – so from now on, you can avoid toothpastes containing those.

By using one of the alternatives mentioned above, you can rest assured that you’ve opted for a healthy and environmentally-friendly toothpaste.

Which toothpaste is your favorite?

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