When we hear the word plastic, we inevitably think of littered seas and endless mountains of plastic, which have long since become a global problem. But microplastics in toothpaste? Many people are not aware that we also have a plastic problem in our daily dental care, which is a threat to both our health and our environment.
Even though many cosmetics manufacturers have now committed themselves to avoiding microplastics, it has still not completely disappeared from the (dental care) market. Unfortunately, the problem has not yet completely disappeared due to the lack of laws.
We therefore want to sharpen your eyes and show you how you can recognize toothpaste or dental care products without microplastics.
What exactly is microplastic?
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are smaller than 5 mm. The particles, also known as polymers, can be found almost anywhere.
They are available in both solid and liquid form. They are found in cosmetics, as granules in artificial turf or as abrasives in industry.
However, microplastic particles also arise from the decay process of larger pieces of plastic, for example when they float in the sea and are gradually eaten away by waves and wind.
Up to 12 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year and gradually become microplastics. Our lakes and rivers also have an increasingly serious problem with this.
Why is there microplastic in toothpaste?
But why is there microplastic in toothpaste of all things?
Until a few years ago, microplastic particles (microbeads) were deliberately added to toothpastes. They should serve as cleaning bodies and brush the plaque from the teeth.
This has actually been banned since 2014. The problem, however, is that many manufacturers only recognize the ingredient polyethylene (PE) as microplastic, but not other substances like it
- Acrylate copolymer,
- Acrylate Crosspolymer
- or nylon-12.
The reason for this: These ingredients are water-soluble, liquid or gel-like plastic. However, the Federal Environment Agency only describes solid plastic particles as microplastics - a loophole that many manufacturers rely on.
So they officially produce their toothpastes “free of microplastics”.
However, environmental protection organizations see things differently and also classify the substances mentioned here as microplastics and questionable.
If you like, a kind of greenwashing is being carried out at the expense of the customer and the environment.
In other dental care products such as
- whitening creams,
- dental care gels,
- Adhesive creams
- Or mouthwashes may still contain all forms of polymers.
And, even if the toothpaste officially contains no microplastics, plastic particles can also be introduced into dental care through the packaging of the toothpaste.
Other possible harmful ingredients in toothpaste
Microplastics aren't our only health-threatening problem when it comes to toothpaste.
They often contain other ingredients that are hazardous to health.
We want to give you an overview of this.
Toothpaste with triclosan
Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent.
It has an antibacterial and odor-inhibiting effect and is primarily used in hospitals for hygiene.
Unfortunately, this is exactly why it can also be found in toothpastes:
- It kills bacteria
- and prevents bad breath.
Unfortunately with fatal side effects:
- Triclosan can cause contact allergies
- and against bacteria
- and make them resistant to antibiotics.
However, anyone who develops resistance to antibiotics may no longer be able to be helped in emergencies - namely whenever the effect of antibiotics would be necessary for health reasons.
Triclosan is also suspected
- damaging the hormonal system
- and to form toxic dioxins under the influence of UV radiation.
Toothpaste with aluminum fluoride
Salt-like fluorides are generally said to have the ability to kill tooth decay bacteria and harden tooth enamel.
However, fluoride is controversial because it can be toxic to the body and especially our bones.
Especially as aluminum fluoride. Here the fluoride forms a compound with aluminum. A regular and high intake of aluminum compounds can, it is believed,
- damage to bones,
- and liver cause
- and also brain
- and negatively affect motor skills.
Our body stores aluminum for a particularly long time, so its intake is particularly questionable in children and young people.
High proportions of aluminum fluoride are found primarily in whitening toothpastes, as aluminum fluorides are not water-soluble and are therefore used as an additional abrasive.
Are there any differences in use with plastic-free toothpaste?
Plastic-free dental care products are mainly available in health food stores. They exist as
- Paste in the tube
- or in a glass,
- in the form of tooth powder
- or toothpaste tablets.
The application is certainly unusual at first.
Alternative toothpaste usually doesn't foam or only foams a little, which may feel strange the first few times during your brushing routine.
There are of course further differences in application for the tablets and the powder.
- Tablets are chewed without water and then combined with your saliva to form a kind of paste.
- With powder, you simply dip the dry toothbrush in it and then start brushing, also without adding water. Here too, the connection with your saliva creates the “toothbrushing effect”.
Is toothpaste with microplastics harmful to the environment?
In general, any product that contains microplastics is harmful to the environment. If you use toothpaste with microplastics, the polymers end up in the wastewater after you spit out the toothpaste.
Unfortunately, sewage treatment plants are not able to completely filter microplastics out of the water, so some of them end up back into the environment and collect in our rivers, lakes and seas.
By the way, it also gets into our tap water!
How do I recognize microplastic toothpaste?
A look at the list of ingredients will tell you whether there are microplastics in a toothpaste. With the following names or ingredients you are dealing with polymers:
- Acrylates Copolymer, Acrylates Crosspolymer
- Allyl Stearate/VA copolymer
- Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
- Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
- Ethylene/acrylate copolymer
- Ethylene/methacrylate copolymer
- Polyamides, nylon
- Polymethyl methacrylates
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG-) (difficult to degrade from PEG-50)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Polypropylene Terephthalete
- Polybutylene terephthalates
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polypropylene Glycol (PPG) (difficult to degrade from PPG-50)
- Polystyrene (PS)
- Polyurethanes (PUR)
- Styrene acrylates copolymer
- Silicones, for example cyclotetrasiloxanes, cyclopentasiloxanes, cyclohexasiloxanes, cyclomethicone / silsesquioxane / trimethylsiloxysilicates (silicone resin)
By the way, there are some good apps that you can download onto your smartphone.
If you then scan the relevant product with the app, for example in the supermarket, it will tell you which polymers and other pollutants are in the item.
“Tox Fox” is one of the apps that also shows you microplastics.
When shopping, it's worth paying attention to which ingredients are in a product. With a little know-how and a little attention, many potentially harmful ingredients and packaging materials can be avoided.