Found most often in anti-bacterial products, triclosan supplements many toothpaste brands. Unfortunately, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies triclosan as a pesticide, stating it poses a risk to both human health and the environment. Scientists categorize triclosan as a chlorophenol, which is a type of chemical suspected of causing cancer in humans.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Added as a detergent and cleansing agent, sodium laurel sulfate and its cousin sodium laureth sulfate pose a wide range of potential health risks. On its own, sodium laurel sulfate can damage eyes, irritate skin and lead to labored breathing. According to the American College of Toxicology, sodium laurel sulfate may stay within the body for up to five days, accumulating in the heart, liver, lungs, and brain. When combined with certain other chemicals, sodium laurel sulfate transforms into nitrosamines, a class of powerful carcinogens that cause the body to absorb harmful nitrates.
An active component in antifreeze, propylene glycol acts as a wetting agent and surfactant in toothpaste. The Material Safety Data Sheets for propylene glycol warn that the chemical can be rapidly absorbed through the skin, with prolonged contact leading to brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. The EPA won’t allow its workers to handle propylene glycol without wearing rubber gloves, yet it doesn’t stop the chemical from being used in common health care products.
Consumers find diethanolamine, or DEA, in products that foam, including toothpaste. DEA disrupts hormones and forms cancer-causing nitrates. According to Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental health at the University of Illinois, repeated skin exposure to DEA can lead to increased risk of liver and kidney cancers.
Derived from red seaweed, carrageenan is added to thicken toothpaste, but it’s been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers and even colon cancer in laboratory animals. While food-grade carrageenan sounds safe, it’s also been linked to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in mice.
An artificial sweetener has been linked to bladder cancer, brain tumors, and lymphoma in rodents.
Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)
Titanium dioxide is an inorganic chemical compound added as a colorant to make toothpaste white. While most studies have concluded that titanium dioxide is safe for topical use on the skin since it isn’t absorbed, there haven’t been studies to determine if it is absorbed by the mucous membranes in the mouth. According to the Environmental Working Group, there is concern about inhalation of titanium dioxide, because it may be carcinogenic and could cause non-reproductive-organ-system toxicity. It’s also important to note that titanium dioxide doesn’t provide any oral benefit; it’s simply part of a marketing tactic to appeal to those who like brilliantly white toothpaste.
Artificial toothpaste colors are used to make commercial toothpaste aesthetically pleasing. Studies have linked artificial coloring chemicals to hyperactivity and ADHD in children; in fact, a study published in 2012 by Neurotherapeutics found that artificial food colors can have a negative effect on children even if they haven't been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more worried about how effective my toothpaste is, not how sparkly and blue it is.
Abrasive ingredients are added to toothpaste to help “scrub” biofilm from the teeth. Toothpaste only needs to be mildly abrasive to be effective. Some of the abrasives used, such as hydrated silica, are too rough. These ingredients can strip away the enamel and dentin, creating sensitivity and leading to gum recession. Whitening toothpaste brands don’t chemically whiten teeth, they whiten by abrasive particles scratching off stains.
Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives to extend the shelf life of the toothpaste. The FDA is still reviewing and evaluating published studies on the safety of parabens. Known to disrupt hormones, parabens are used in most cosmetic products and even in most grocery items. Even if the levels in these individual products are considered “safe,” the accumulation in our bodies could cause problems, including a possible increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used as a flavoring agent. When aspartame is ingested, one of the chemicals in the compound is broken down into methanol, and alcohol. Our bodies cannot properly digest it in this form. It can travel through the blood and may be converted into formaldehyde. As this builds up in the body, the damage caused can include headaches, dizziness, weakness, memory loss, and gastrointestinal distress. A 2014 study also determined that aspartame is a possible carcinogen.