The latest report by The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, uncovers serious problems in cosmetics industry regulations. Regulatory weaknesses and loopholes allow for the use of questionable, even harmful ingredients in personal care products, such as toothpaste, that could negatively impact the health of the users.
Behind the Dazzling Smile: Toxic Ingredients in Your Toothpaste, describes how the quality of “natural” toothpaste varies significantly between brands and how these personal oral care products commonly include nonessential ingredients that may be harmful.
“The cosmetics industry is no different, and may be worse, than leading food companies when it comes to gimmicky ingredients and misleading health claims,” asserts the report’s lead author Jerome Rigot, Ph.D., a policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “However, we have created a useful web-based tool to help discriminating consumers see through marketing hype and make the best decision for their family when buying toothpaste.”
The report spotlights dangerous endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents, and carcinogens found in popular toothpaste, even many marketed as “natural.”
Cornucopia delivered its study on dangerous compounds in toothpaste to the desks of Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), urging passage of important legislation proposed by the senators that would require the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the safety of ingredients in everyday personal care items, like deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.
Following the sweeping overhaul of chemical regulation signed into law last month with the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (updating the Toxic Substance Control Act), consumers might expect that shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste will be free of toxins soon, but they would be wrong. The new law only applies to products regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All cosmetics and personal care products, such as toothpaste, fall under the Food and Drug Administration and remain essentially unregulated.
Cornucopia’s new report and scorecard educate consumers on the potential risks of common toothpaste ingredients. The online scorecard is easy to use while shopping, highlighting some of the best toothpaste brands, many of which contain organic ingredients.
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, began investigating toothpaste as an extension of their work focusing on the potentially carcinogenic food additive carrageenan. Carrageenan is a non-necessary additive that reliably produces inflammation in the body and yet it is still commonly found in organic foods, like cream, chocolate milk, and yogurt. Carrageenan is also found in natural brands of toothpaste.
Cornucopia found that even many of the toothpaste that claims to be “natural,” and sold at premium prices, contain dangerous chemicals including endocrine disrupters and carcinogens, including carrageenan.
This investigation reveals toothless governmental oversight that asks the cosmetics industry to self-regulate. In fact, the FDA readily admits it:
“Firms and individuals who market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to make sure their products and ingredients…are safe under labeled and customary conditions for use, and that they are properly labeled. Under U.S. law, cosmetics products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market. The one exception is color additives, …which must be approved for their intended use.”
“The FDA does not require impurities, including several potential contaminants such as 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide, both carcinogens, to be listed as ingredients on the labels of personal care products because these toxic chemicals are produced during manufacturing,” confirmed Rigot. “Even though technology (such as vacuum stripping) to remove them exists, many companies don’t use it, because regulators do not force them to do so!”
The FDA restricts or prohibits just 11 synthetic ingredients in cosmetics.Compared to that, the European Union (EU) prohibits over 1,300 ingredients and restricts an additional 250 ingredients for use in personal care products. As a result, the U.S. lags significantly behind other countries on cosmetics safety, allowing many hazardous chemicals that are banned in Canada, Japan, and Europe.
In fact, many kinds of toothpaste sold in Europe, and other countries, by American corporations are created with different, safer formulations for international markets than the same products sold in the U.S., to accommodate stricter cosmetics laws.
“If a company truly cared about the safety of its products, or the health of its customers, it would formulate its products not according to a given country’s regulations, but rather ensure the safest possible product with the highest quality ingredients regardless of where the products are sold,” asserts Mark Kastel, Senior Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.
Slick packaging and misleading health claims are among a variety of marketing ploys used to induce customers to purchase oral care products that, in reality, may be detrimental to their health. Some of the hazardous ingredients and contaminants found in toothpaste are irritants, allergens, endocrine disruptors, or carcinogens.
Furthermore, a majority of “natural” brands don’t include any certified organic ingredients in their formulations. Too often the “natural” depiction of a toothpaste brand does not guarantee that the highest quality and safest ingredients were used or that it does not contain potentially toxic compounds. Also of concern, “natural” herbal extracts, if not certified organic, likely contain pesticide residues.
“How ‘natural’ is a flavor when it is obtained by concentrating ingredients obtained from pesticide-intensive agriculture?” asks Terry Shistar, Ph.D., a member of Beyond Pesticides’ board of directors.
The natural label is often used as a marketing strategy to appeal to the increasing number of consumers expressing interest in healthier products, from food to drinks to personal care items.
“Consumers are increasingly choosing a certified organic diet to reduce their overall toxic load and to secure food that is nutritionally superior,” stated Kastel. “Many are now realizing that anything they put on their skin, or use in their mouths like mouthwash and toothpaste, will end up in their bloodstream. And many of these synthetic compounds are the last thing we want to expose our families too, especially children.”
Cornucopia’s extensively researched report and toothpaste brand scorecard spotlight the most problematic ingredients to be avoided, which are commonly present in some of the most popular “natural” and premium brands as well as familiar mass-market brands like Colgate and Crest. These include synthetic preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, surfactants like sodium Laureth sulfate, which may contain a toxic, cancer-causing contaminant,and artificial flavors and colors that have been tied to behavioral problems in children.
Scientists at Cornucopia found that a majority of well-known“natural” toothpaste brands, such as Tom’s of Maine, Jason, Desert Essence, and Kiss My Face, contain carrageenan, a non-nutritive thickening and emulsifying agent extracted from seaweed. “Peer-reviewed published research has established that food-grade carrageenan has the potential to cause intestinal inflammation, diabetes, and even cancer,” says Linley Dixon, Ph.D., a cientist at The Cornucopia Institute.
The report emphasizes, “Considering that the oral mucosa is one of the most absorbent areas of the body, it is certainly not desirable to use toothpastes containing potentially toxic contaminants that may pass directly into the bloodstream from the mouth environment.”
The Cornucopia scorecard rated Dr. Bronner’s line of toothpaste at the top of the “five-brush” category (on a scale of 1-5), finding it to be among the best and safest products available in the market. “In addition to Dr. Bronner’s, whose formulation is based on certified organic coconut oil, there are number of other excellent products that depend primarily on organic ingredients and/or natural clay, that would contribute to oral health without posing unnecessary risks,” concluded Rigot.
The Cornucopia Institute’s report and scorecard, Behind the Dazzling Smile: Toxic Ingredients in Your Toothpaste, is available at www.cornucopia.org.