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.”
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.
3 Of The Best SLS Free Toothpastes without Fluoride
Hello Fluoride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening Toothpaste
A nice formulation that contains a mixture of calcium carbonate and titanium dioxide to remove stains and whiten teeth. With zinc citrate, peppermint and tea tree oil to neutralize bacteria and freshen breath. Read Review
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.
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.
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?
- It helps to provide the rich foamy toothbrushing experience that most people have become used to when cleaning their teeth.
- It provides the mechanism for bringing active ingredients like fluoride into contact with the teeth for the longest possible time.
- It 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 is a list of advantages as well as disadvantages of using 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 toothpaste” that doesn’t contain SLS also lacks the preserving qualities of more synthetic toothpaste and as a result, has a shorter shelf life.
- 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?
- 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 a 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 Reviews
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.
Hello Fluoride Free Toothpaste
Hello is a progressive and ambitious young company who’s products are bright, colorful and instantly likable. All their products are vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and made in the USA.
Hello offers an extensive range of toothpaste to cater to every personal taste. Their collection includes fluoride, non-fluoride, sensitive, whitening, charcoal and kids toothpaste.
All options are free of SLS, triclosan, parabens, microbeads, and gluten.
Although most dentists and health organizations strongly recommend the use of fluoride toothpaste for strengthening teeth and preventing decay, Hello recognize the consumers right to choose for themselves and give both fluoride and fluoride-free options.
The Hello anti-plaque + whitening toothpaste is a fluoride-free formulation that contains a complex combination of cleansing, polishing, anti-plaque, anti-calculus, moisturizing, thickening, binding, freshening, preserving and flavoring ingredients.
This is a very pleasant toothpaste to use. It will appeal to people who like a natural user experience, the farm-grown peppermint, tea tree oil, and coconut oil leave the mouth feeling clean, fresh and free from any burning sensations.
Despite the lack of SLS, this toothpaste still manages to create a good foaming action which is relatively rare among “natural” toothpaste.
Squigle Tooth Builder Toothpaste
Squigle may be a small Pennsylvania based company with a small product range but they have come to become one of the most popular non-SLS toothpaste around. Although today’s billion-dollar toothpaste industry is dominated by giants like Procter and Gamble, Squigle has managed to carve out a piece of the market with just a couple of very good products. Squigle’s first toothpaste was developed and introduced to the market in 1998 by Dr. Edward Cutler Ph.D. Unlike some toothpaste where ingredients are added purely for consumer appeal, Squigle is designed, very much for medicinal purposes.
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 cause plaque. Instead of feeding plaque bacteria, xylitol actually kills it thereby reducing the harmful acidic byproduct that plaque produces.
Cali White Vegan Whitening Toothpaste with VITAMIN B12
This is a peppermint-flavored vegan-friendly toothpaste that is designed to clean and whiten teeth with a mixture of natural cleansers and abrasives.
Cleaning and whitening are effectively done with the use of Hydrated Silica, Calcium Carbonate, and Cocamidopropyl betaine.
The interesting aspect of this toothpaste is that it is enriched with Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12). Studies have shown that Vitamin B12 can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the mucosal barrier (lining of the mouth) and prevent deficiency in vegans, over-50s, and people with certain medical conditions.
Cali White uses Cocamidopropyl betaine as a coconut-oil based replacement for SLS. It should be noted that although Cocamidopropyl betaine is not as harsh on the skin as SLS there have been claims it can still cause irritation issues to people with sensitive skin.
This is a nice toothpaste to use. It has a pleasant peppermint taste and produces a good foam that leaves the mouth feeling clean and fresh. The fact that it is fortified with B12 makes it especially useful to strict vegetarians.
Himalaya Neem and Pomegranate Toothpaste
Himalaya is a trusted and respected manufacturer of herbal-based products. With over 90 years of experience in combining natural ingredients and scientific research, Himalaya now has an extensive range of personal care and wellness products.
The Himalaya Neem and Pomegranate toothpaste is free from SLS, fluoride, triclosan, and gluten. It contains a complex combination of herbal ingredients designed to cleanse the teeth and mouth without irritation.
One of the two key ingredients in this toothpaste is a herbal extract taken from the bark of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Known as the “Indian wonder tree”, Neem has been used in Ayurveda medicine for centuries to detoxify the teeth and mouth.
Research has shown that regular brushing with a Neem toothpaste will significantly improve all aspects of oral health. It will reduce plaque and help prevent tooth decay, help treat and prevent gum disease and reduce the bio-load of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
To compliment Neem this toothpaste uses Pomegranate as a secondary active ingredient to further reduce plaque.
Our Authors & Contributors
Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hamid BDS, MFDS RCSEd, Member of AACD