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SLS free toothpaste v Regular Toothpaste
“Sodium lauryl sulfate has come under much media scrutiny in recent years amid claims that it is harmful to health and the environment.”
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What is SLS free toothpaste?
Recent years has seen a dramatic increase in online searches for SLS free toothpaste due to much media focus on the potential health hazards of sodium lauryl sulfate. In an effort to give consumers an alternative to regular toothpaste, some manufacturers produce and market milder forms of toothpaste that don’t contain SLS.
What is sodium lauryl sulfate and is it really harmful?
Sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS for short, is a chemical compound prepared by sulfation of lauryl alcohol and neutralized with sodium carbonate, it is also commonly known as Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). Sodium lauryl sulfate belongs to a group of chemical compounds called surfactants that are commonly used as detergents, wetting ingredients, thickeners, and emulsifiers. SLS is extensively used in household cleaning products as well as a whole range of personal care products such as soap, shampoo, moisturizers, bath products, shaving products, toothpaste, and mouthwash. About 85% of toothpaste contains SLS as a surfactant ingredient for the simple reason it is cheap and very effective. Despite its popularity with toothpaste manufacturers, SLS has gained a negative reputation as a harmful chemical that should not be allowed anywhere near your teeth, hair or skin. The truth is that although sodium lauryl sulfate is by no means the perfect ingredient and there are certain shortcomings that consumers should be aware of, most of the hazard claims are completely unfounded.
Popular viral claims regarding SLS include –
- Skin and eye irritant – This is actually true! SLS is a recognized irritant that can cause discomfort to people with sensitive or hypersensitive skins. It must be stressed that when used appropriately and at the correct concentrations, most people can use products that contain Sodium lauryl sulfate without any problems, this is especially true of products like shampoo or soap, where it is mostly all washed away by the rinsing effects of water. However, the practice of exposing the delicate and sensitive lining of the mouth to a toothpaste containing harsh, synthetic chemicals like SLS is questionable.
- Causes cancer – This is false! Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is not classified as a carcinogen by any health organization. There is no evidence to suggest that SLS is in any way linked to cancer.
- Causes hair loss – This is false! Research has shown that high concentrations of SLS applied to the skin of laboratory rats left heavy deposits on the hair causing potential damage to the hair follicles but there is no evidence to suggest resulting hair loss.
- SLS can be absorbed into the bloodstream – This is true! Although most of the chemical is left on the outside of the skin, it is possible for some SLS to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Organ toxic – This is false! While it is true that SLS can be absorbed into the bloodstream there is no data to suggest that it accumulates in vital organs. SLS deposits in the blood are quickly cleaned up by the liver and excreted from the body.
- Neurotoxic – This is false! There is no evidence to suggest that SLS absorbed into the bloodstream can affect the nervous system. TOXNET® does not recognize SLS as a suspected neurotoxin.
- Reproductive toxic – This is false! There is no substantiation to claims that SLS can affect normal reproduction.
- Harmful to the environment – This is true! Although this is technically true and SLS in its raw state is moderately toxic to aquatic life it can be argued that the low concentrations found in household and personal care products could be considered non-toxic. The toxicity of SLS to aquatic organisms also depends on specific water parameters such as hardness and temperature.
Despite all the sensational claims and click bait headlines, major health organizations generally accept that SLS does not pose any significant health risk provided it is used correctly at the recommended concentration levels. The American Cancer society rubbished claims that SLS causes cancer in 1998 and no research since then has linked SLS in any form or concentration to cancer. None of the international organizations such as the World Health Organization, European Union or US Environment Protection Agency have classified Sodium lauryl sulfate as a carcinogen. The CIR ( Cosmetic Ingredient Review) Expert Panel re-reviewed Sodium lauryl sulfate and its usage amid the viral allegations that it is toxic and carcinogenic to humans. Even after examining all the data they still found no reason that SLS would pose any health risk when used in cosmetic and personal care products. The FDA Sec.172.822 (Reviewed 1 April 2017) still permits the use of Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as a thickening and emulsifying additive to foods provided it is used within the stipulated guidelines. Suggestions that Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is organ toxic, neurotoxic or a reproductive toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin are completely unfounded.
Ok, SLS is technically safe but is it really the best ingredient for toothpaste?
Although SLS is regarded as a safe ingredient for cosmetic and personal care products it would be stretching the truth a little to describe it as the “best choice ingredient” to use in products that come into contact with the mucal membrane tissue of the mouth. While most of the hazard claims are false, it is definitely true that SLS is a recognized skin irritant that can cause discomfort to people who are sensitive to it. When used in formulations for personal care products like shampoo, soap or shaving cream it is very unlikely to cause any kind of irritation for the majority of people since the product is in contact with the skin for such a short period of time and most of it washed away afterward anyway. However, people with sensitive or hypersensitive skin may feel some discomfort when using SLS products because of their irritating and drying properties. Using toothpaste that contains SLS does raise some extra concerns that don’t apply to other personal care products like shampoo and soap –
- The oral mucosa (lining of the mouth) is very delicate and sensitive. For some people, SLS can potentially cause mild hypersensitive reactions.
- Although there is a lack of reliable data to directly link Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) to canker sores, research has suggested it does slow down the healing process.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) has been shown to reduce the uptake of fluoride by teeth enamel. For people who recognize the dental benefits of fluoride, this is an unwanted characteristic.
- “Spit don’t rinse” after cleaning teeth is the advice given by many dental professionals because rinsing the mouth with water immediately after brushing will flush away the protective fluoride. This is good advice for avoiding cavities, although, unfortunately, it also means that the surfactant will also remain in contact with the skin for extended periods of time. Given that this happens at least twice a day, 365 days a year, switching to an SLS free (fluoride) toothpaste, especially for people with sensitive skin, is probably good advice.
- Teeth sensitivity can be caused by a number of different reasons such as decay, thin enamel, cracks, fractures and exposed nerves. By brushing teeth with an SLS toothpaste, it is possible that sensitivity can be further aggravated.
What is the purpose of Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in toothpaste?
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) serves a number of purposes when used to formulate toothpaste –
- Helps to provide the rich foamy toothbrushing experience that most people have become used to when cleaning their teeth.
- Provides the mechanism for bringing active ingredients like fluoride into contact with the teeth for the longest possible time.
- Helps to lift and remove the sticky plaque biofilm from the teeth surface and leave them feeling squeaky clean.
Should you swap your regular toothpaste for SLS free toothpaste?
SLS is not exactly an essential toothpaste ingredient that you can’t do without, it is definitely possible to give your teeth a perfect clean without it. However, there are some possible disadvantages if you don’t choose your SLS free toothpaste carefully. Here are a list of advantages as well as disadvantages of using SLS free toothpaste.
Advantages of using an SLS free toothpaste –
- SLS is a harsh detergent that will come in contact with your delicate mouth lining twice a day 365 days a year. By switching to an SLS free toothpaste, you will reduce your chemical exposure.
- If you are prone to canker sores, replacing your regular toothpaste with an SLS free alternative could decrease discomfort and quicken recovery time.
- If you have gum disease, switching to a milder or more natural toothpaste can help to avoid exasperating your already inflamed gum tissue.
- If you suffer from sensitive teeth swapping SLS toothpaste for non-SLS toothpaste can help reduce sensitivity pain. Imagine if you had a paper cut on your finger and you rubbed detergent into it, it would sting! Brushing SLS onto sensitive teeth, infected gums or canker sores can have the exact same effect.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) has been shown to reduce the anti-cavity effectiveness of fluoride on teeth enamel. By using an SLS free toothpaste you can gain the maximum benefit from its fluoride active ingredient.
- It is common for manufacturers of SLS free toothpaste to be more socially and environmentally aware. Companies like Green People and Dr. Bronner’s are committed to sourcing natural, sustainable and fair trade ingredients.
Disadvantages of using SLS free toothpaste –
- SLS is very effective at what it does. It has excellent foaming and cleaning properties that leave the teeth feeling very fresh and clean. Some SLS free toothpastes do not have a comparable surfactant system and as a result, do not leave the teeth feeling quite as clean. This doesn’t mean the teeth aren’t clean, they just feel different and this can be disconcerting for some users.
- SLS is an excellent foaming agent that makes it very easy to brush toothpaste into all areas of the mouth. By contrast, some SLS free toothpastes are very low foaming, weak and watery. This can make it more difficult to clean teeth since it doesn’t have the same heavy consistency.
- One reason for Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) being such a popular ingredient with manufacturers is that it is cheap to produce. Alternative SLS free toothpaste formulations can be more expensive to produce and often retail at a higher cost to the consumer.
- Often, the more “natural toothpastes” that don’t contain SLS also lack the preserving qualities of more synthetic toothpaste and as a result, have a shorter shelf live.
- Some alternative surfactants that are used instead of SLS have a very unpleasant taste, as a result manufacturers often resort to using very strong flavorings just to make to toothpaste seem more pleasant. Some of these flavorings can be too harsh for people with sensitive mouths.
What about other similar sulfate ingredients?
Picking an SLS free toothpaste can be difficult and confusing. For starters, ingredient labels are usually not user-friendly and sometimes manufacturers use synonyms that you may not be familiar with. Sodium lauryl sulfate can also be called –
- Sodium dodecyl sulfate
- Sulfuric acid monododecyl ester
- Dodecyl hydrogen sulfate sodium salt
There is also similar sulfate based chemicals like Sodium Laureth Sulfate(SLES) that have slightly different properties but still have the same foaming and cleaning properties. SLES is produced by the ethoxylation of dodecyl alcohol and is considered to be a slightly less irritating surfactant than SLS, although it has faced much of the same viral criticism as SLS. There is some extra concern regarding Sodium Laureth Sulfate(SLES) in that there is potential for 1,4-dioxane contamination during the ethoxylation process. Although traces of 1,4-dioxane would be lower that which would be considered a threat to health it is understandably a concern for consumers.
How to choose the best SLS free toothpaste.
Most kinds of toothpaste available today are complex synthetic formulations that have been carefully blended to give a pleasant texture and taste while at the same time dispersing throughout the oral cavity to help make the mouth feel as fresh as possible. Concerns over the health implications of ingredients like SLS is inspiring people to search for more natural toothpaste that can rival regular synthetic brands in term of effectiveness and experience. If you want to replace your regular toothpaste with an SLS free alternative, these are some of the important characteristics to look for –
- The toothpaste should have adequate foaming properties to give a cleaning experience that is as good as or better than an SLS toothpaste.
- The taste of the toothpaste should be acceptable to both adults and children.
- The toothpaste should not use very strong artificial flavorings just to mask a foul tasting surfactant.
- The shelf life should be adequately long so that the product does not deteriorate before it has been used.
Alternatives ingredients to sodium lauryl sulfate SLS in toothpaste.
- Coco-glucoside – An excellent toothpaste surfactant that ticks all the boxes for people who want a “green” alternative to SLS. It is non- irritating and doesn’t dry the skin in the way that sulfate surfactants do, making it well suited for products that come into contact with mucal membrane areas like the inside of the mouth. Coco-glucoside is what is known as an Alkyl Glucoside and it can be regarded as a green ingredient since it is derived from natural, renewable raw materials It is produced by reacting the alcohol from coconut or palm oil with glucose from corn, potatoes or wheat starch.
- Sodium Cocyl Glutamate – Although this is also derived from coconut oil it can’t be described as a natural or organic ingredient. Sodium Cocyl Glutamate is still a synthetic surfactant that is relatively similar to Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). However, it is milder and less irritating to the skin than SLS.
- Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate – This is another popular SLS alternative used by brands like Eco-dent, With My and Kiss my Face. Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate is a mild and stable surfactant that has excellent foaming capabilities but without the irritating characteristics.
- Decyl Glucoside – A mild and gentle ingredient that is similar in nature to Coco-glucoside. This is a popular ingredient in personal care products because of its non-irritating and non-allergenic qualities. For consumers who want more natural ingredients in their toothpaste, Decyl Glucoside fits the bill perfectly. It is a biodegradable surfactant produced from plant based oils, sugars and starches. Used in toothpaste EMIKO®Care
- Quillaja triterpenic saponins – Another natural foaming agent that can be used in toothpaste as a replacement to SLS. This ingredient is extracted from tree bark that can be produced from eco-friendly forests. The foaming properties are relatively poor compared to SLS so this ingredient is sometimes used in conjunction with other surfactants like Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate.
SLS Free Toothpaste for Adults
Due to public demand, there are now many SLS free tootpaste options available to buy. We have taken a look at some of the most popular ones.
Green People Toothpaste
The end result is a complete range of personal care products that contain at least 90% natural ingredients. Since their humble beginnings back in the mid-1990’s Green People have gained maximum respect for their dedication to producing high-quality products manufactured with natural, organic, sustainable and fairly traded ingredients.
Green People’s toothpaste is not only free from SLS but also free from any surfactant at all. They are of the opinion that the foaming action of toothpaste is simply there to create the illusion of cleaning the teeth better when in fact it can actually damage the sensitive oral mucous and contribute to gum disease.
Green People toothpaste cleans the teeth by using mildly abrasive calcium carbonate combined with Aloe Vera juice and Glycerin. Betaine helps to stimulate natural saliva to help aid the cleaning process along with a blend of essential oils to control bacteria and add flavor.
Green People toothpaste is available from good pharmacies and online retailers.
What people say:
Again a safe product to be used with children, and the flavor is widely accepted by most. Its price is also fair compared to other children’s toothpaste; However, the fact it doesn’t contain any lathering or soaping components, it doesn’t lather as much and therefore doesn’t spread enough and doesn’t clean the teeth as effectively as needed. People also complained about the consistency, as they got the feeling it is a bit runny and doesn’t stay on the brush for as long as needed.
Green People Toothpaste Ingredients
Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, Glycerin (vegetable derived), Aqua (pure water), Betaine, Xanthan Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Sweet Orange Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Myrrha oil, Olive leaf extract, Citral, Limonene, Linalool.
Green People Fennel and Propolis Toothpaste –
Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, Glycerin (vegetable derived), Aqua (pure water), Betaine, Xanthan Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Fennel Oil, Cinnamon Leal Oil, Clove Bud Oil, Myrrh Oil, Propolis, Olive Leaf Extract, Eugenol, Limonene.
Green People Peppermint and Aloe Vera –
Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, Glycerin (vegetable derived), Aqua (pure water), Betaine, Xanthan Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Myrrh Oil, Peppermint Oil, Olive Leaf Extract, Limonene, Linalool
Dr Bronner’s Toothpaste
For the toothpaste, the company claims to have 70% organic components, such as Aloe, Glycerin, and Coconut Oil, with no active ingredients such as Fluoride, and no added preservatives or sweeteners. It is available in Cinnamon, Peppermint, and Anise flavors, and can be purchased from large supermarkets, pharmacies, and online retailers.
What People Say:
Most people are happy with this particular brand and are especially happy that the product is all natural with no additives and artificial medications. They are also happy that it is suitable for vegans and has not been tested on animals. Some even say that it made their teeth stronger and their gums better (although that is hard to understand considering there is no effective ingredient to do that), and people that previously complained of sensitive mouth and sores are clearly happy with this one. On the other hand, some people are not happy with the lack of foaming action and cleaning effectiveness, as well as the lack of fluoride which makes fighting cavities harder. Other complaints include bad taste, bad consistency and the Glycerin content which coats the teeth and prevents remineralization if you use other Fluoride containing products.
Dr. Bronner's Toothpaste Ingredients
Dr Cutler’s idea was to invent a foaming system that did not use SLS or any other harsh chemicals that irritate or inflame skin tissue. The biggest challenge was that potential SLS replacement chemicals are low foaming and unpleasant to taste. Dr cutler found that by using poloxamers along with additional complementary ingredients like Methocel he could create a tasteless surfactant that was mild enough to avoid irritation while still performing well as a foaming agent.
Another unique aspect of Squigle toothpaste is the 36% concentration of natural birch xylitol it contains. Although some other toothpastes use xylitol as sweeteners very few competitors use it at concentrations of 36%. Xylitol has powerful anti-plaque properties that can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Unlike normal sugar, xylitol can’t be metabolized by the bacteria that causes plaque. Instead of feeding plaque bacteria, xylitol actually kills it thereby reducing the harmful acidic byproduct that plaque produces.
Squigle is available from good pharmacies and online retailers.
What people say
People are happy with the fact that this toothpaste is helpful in reducing mouth sores and happy with the overall natural and clean components. The taste is also widely accepted, although they say that it doesn’t give you fresh breath. The complaints are in the area of consistency and that it needs getting used to since it doesn’t foam like SLS containing toothpaste, and that it doesn’t clean as well as other brands. The fact it contains Fluoride is strange to some people, as they opted to purchase a natural toothpaste formulation only to find artificial Fluoride in the mix that raised some concerns on the matter.
Squigle Toothpaste ingredients
Ingredients: Purified water, Sodium fluoride, Natural Xylitol, Silica, Glycerin, Poloxamer, Cellulose gum, Peppermint, Anatase, Methocel®, Glycyrrhizin, Sodium hydroxide.
Squigle Tooth Builder Toothpaste –
Ingredients: Purified water, Natural Xylitol, Poloxamer, Methocel®, Calcite, Glycerin, Cellulose gum, Calcium propionate, lactoferrin.
A USA based company manufacturing all kinds of health products and cosmetics. Jason toothpaste uses Sodium Cocyl Glutamate as a substitute for sodium lauryl sulfate to give a foaming action that is comparable with regular toothpaste. Although Sodium Cocyl Glutamate is derived from coconuts, its manufacturing process means it is still classified as a synthetic ingredient. Having said that, Sodium Cocyl Glutamate is a more gentle, mouth friendly surfactant that doesn’t raise the same concerns as SLS. Their main ingredient is Tea tree leaf oil, along with other flower oils and extracts, with glycerin as their medium. Various formulations of their toothpaste exist, including Tartar control, whitening and sensitive teeth formulas.
What people say
JĀSÖN products are well regarded by consumers. All products are as stated, natural with no additives and no animal testing making it popular with nature enthusiasts. The one striking comment about this particular brand is the taste, being great and minty for some consumers, and a little too strong for others causing stinging and burning. Another peculiar comment is that although this tooth paste doesn’t contain SLS, it lathers and foams greatly (some say even more than SLS containing tooth pastes) which raises some concerns that there is a “not so natural” ingredient in this tooth paste that the company doesn’t mention. People are happy with the teeth cleaning effect but reluctant about the whitening or sensitivity treating effect.
Jason Toothpaste Ingredients
Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Leaf Oil, Carrageenan, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (1), Bambusa Arundinacea Stem Powder, Carum Petroselinum (Parsley) Extract, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Seed Extract, Chlorella Pyrenoidosa Extract, Perilla Ocymoides Seed Extract, Stevia Rebaudiana Leaf/Stem Extract, Silica, Sodium Bicarbonate.
Another USA based company specializing only in SLS free tooth pastes. They based their entire marketing campaign on the fact that SLS free toothpaste reduces Canker sores and lip chapping. This particular toothpaste contains glycerin, Sorbitol, and Sodium Benzoate as a foaming agent, along with active ingredients as Sodium Fluoride, and Silica in order to reduce stains. It also contains strong flavors (mostly mint) and natural blue and Yellow coloring agents.
What people say:
It does what it says on the box: get rid of Canker sores. People are very happy with the reduction in their mouth sores, and also very happy with the Fluoride content that decreases the cavity spreading; However, the fact it contains Fluoride and Silica is a double edged weapon, meaning some people are happy with the decay reduction, while others are unhappy with the unnatural constituents. The same could be said about the added coloring agents. Consumers that have been using this tooth paste for a while say that the newer bottles have a weird taste, and are not as happy as they used to be.
Verve Ultra Toothpaste Ingredients
Ingredients: Purified Water, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Cellulose Gum, Flavor, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Benzoate, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Sodium Saccharin, Maritime Pine Extract (Pycnogenol¨), FD&C Blue 1, D&C Yellow 10
Jack N’ Jill Toothpaste
An Australian family business established in 1949, and now available worldwide. It is a natural tooth paste rich in fruit extracts, with glycerin and xylitol to prevent plaque build-up. The tooth paste doesn’t contain any additives, no Fluoride, no SLS and no preservatives, sweeteners, sugars or Colors. It is available in multiple flavors, with a flavor free product available if your kid is not too fond of fruity flavors.
What people say:
People say that it is definitely safe for kids, so there is no danger if swallowed. Most kids like the flavor, so much that they actually like to “eat” the toothpaste rather than clean with it, although a few of them find it too strong. People find the price a bit too high since the package is small (less than 2 ounces). The most critical review about this toothpaste is that it doesn’t do what a toothpaste should, that is cleaning the teeth. Some people complain their children’s teeth have gone more yellow, and some have even developed more cavities according to the dentist, and therefore are not happy with the product.
Jack and Jill Toothpaste Ingredients
Ingredients: Xylitol, Purified Water, Vegetable Glycerin (from coconut), Silica, Certified Organic Strawberry Flavor(Fragaria chiloensis), Xanthan Gum, Certified Organic Calendula Officinalis Extract
Jack N’ Jill Natural Toothpaste Flavour Free 50g –
Ingredients: Xylitol, Purified water, Vegetable Glycerin (Coconut derived), Silica, Potassium Sorbate (Naturally Derived), Citric Acid.
Jack N’ Jill Organic Blueberry Natural Toothpaste 50g –
Ingredients: Xylitol, Purified Water, Vegetable Glycerin (from coconut), Silica, Certified Organic Natural Flavour Blueberry, Xanthan Gum, Certified Organic Calendula Officinalis Extract
Jack N’ Jill Organic Rasberry Natural Toothpaste 50g –
Ingredients: Xylitol, Purified Water, Vegetable Glycerin (from coconut), Silica, Certified Organic Natural Flavour Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) Xanthan Gum, Certified Organic Calendula Officinalis Extract
Made by the US company NOW foods, which is a healthy products company producing all kinds of healthy products and even promotes healthy eating and living. Their toothpaste is very suitable for children since it is SLS free, Fluoride free and Gluten free. It contains tea tree extract along with other fruit trees extracts, with Silica, Glycerin, Sorbitol and Xylitol to clean effectively. This particular toothpaste is available in gel form in addition to the normal pasty consistency, in order for it to stick more to the teeth surface and therefore clean more.
Our Authors & Contributors
Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hamid BDS, MFDS RCSEd, Member of AACD