How safe is your natural toothpaste? (Photo: Alamy)
According to research from the organic industry watchdog the Cornucopia Institute, the quality of natural toothpastes varies dramatically between brands, and some even contain ingredients that can be harmful for your health. The company analyzed various natural toothpaste brands and found endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents, and carcinogens among them.
Here’s a specific list of problematic ingredients, per the Cornucopia Institute:
diazolidinyl urea (a preservative and known carcinogen and skin irritant)
triclosan (an antibacterial that can act as an endocrine disruptor)
carrageenan (a thickening agent and possible carcinogen)
parabens (estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors)
sodium laurel sulfate (a detergent that’s a skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritant)
artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners (some are made from petrochemicals contaminated with carcinogens)
So how is this possible? Like cosmetics, toothpastes are a largely unregulated industry. While they fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they’re considered “FDA-regulated,” not “FDA-approved.” That means they don’t have to have FDA approval before going on the market, but there are certain laws and regulations that apply to them (which means the FDA could pull a product from shelves if it doesn’t meet the proper regulations).
Is this something we should be worried about? “What goes into your body can impact how your cells work,” Marisa Weiss, MD, director of breast health outreach at Lankenau Medical Center and president of Breastcancer.org, tells Yahoo Beauty, “so we have to ask questions about the safety of our personal care products.”
Anton Bilchik, MD, chief of medicine and chief of gastrointestinal research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Los Angeles, agrees. “I think that we do need to be concerned about carcinogens in general and the FDA should regulate toothpaste perhaps the same way that they regulate new drugs,” he tells Yahoo Beauty. However, he points out, that’s difficult to do. “There are so many carcinogens that we don’t know anything about,” he says. “But toothpaste has been around for a long time and there [are] no known reported cases of cancer related to people using toothpaste.”
Mark S. Wolff, DDS, chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at the New York University College of Dentistry, tells Yahoo Beauty that these ingredients show up in “regular” toothpastes as well and are all on the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” list.
Wolff says none of the ingredients are “particularly worrisome,” noting that “they are used all over the food and drug industry to keep our foods looking good and safe from spoilage by bacteria.”
Bilchik agrees, noting that the ingredients seem “fairly OK in the sense that each one of those that has been implicated in cancer has been found to do so in animals using much higher concentrations.” But, he says, “there really have not been any studies reporting patients developing cancer from toothpaste.”
However, Weiss urges some caution, especially when it comes to triclosan and parabens. “They can influence cell behavior,” she says. “We want our cells to grow in a normal way and, if you bring into your body too much of something that can mess it up, we want to know about and avoid it.”
While Weiss doesn’t recommend chucking the toothpaste you have at home if it contains these ingredients, she says it’s probably not a bad idea to be wary of buying toothpaste with these ingredients in the future. “All of us should operate on a basic principle of public health, which is that it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she says.