The ingredients in your toothpaste are as important as the ingredients in your food, but -- like many cosmetic products -- toothpastes contain chemicals that would never appear on your dinner table. One example is sodium laurel sulfate, present in over 100 dental care products rated by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer health organization. Finding a toothpaste without SLS can be accomplished by learning a few brand names or by making your own toothpaste at home.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
The purpose of sodium lauryl sulfate -- a salt derived from lauryl sulfate -- is to clean surfaces and provide a foaming lather. It is synthetically produced in laboratories through a process of denaturing dodecanol, a fatty alcohol extracted from coconut and palm kernel oil. Found in industrial cleaners as well as consumer products, SLS is approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics and scores in the green "low hazard" zone in the EWG's Skin Deep database. Most of the worry related to SLS is related to its manufacturing process -- ethoxylation. Some consumer health advocates claim that ethoxylated products are contaminated with dioxane, a known toxin.
If you go shopping for an SLS-free toothpaste, you won't have to look very hard or for too long: Many are available at drugstores and major retailers. One of the best known and most widely available brands is made by Tom's of Maine. Look at the label to make sure you are buying an SLS-free variety. Another well-known and easy-to-find brand is Burt's Bees; the company's natural toothpaste comes in four varieties, all SLS free. Other SLS-free brands that can be ordered online or found in health food shops include Poofy Organics Happy Teeth Toothpaste, Dr. Collins Natural Toothpaste and Earthpaste.
Save a few pennies by collecting the ingredients to make your own SLS-free toothpaste. Find a good recipe online -- many blogs are centered on this purpose -- or in a holistic nutrition book. Common ingredients for a toothpaste base include baking soda, glycerin, white oak bark extract and the sweeteners stevia or xylitol. Add a breath freshener in extract or essential oil form. Peppermint, wintermint, cinnamon and fennel are traditional choices, but you might explore cherry or licorice for something more unusual. Store your homemade toothpaste in a small pump dispenser jar.
Taking care of your teeth and gums is a fundamental part of your overall health. The American Dental Association advises brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste to minimize plaque buildup, tooth decay and periodontal gum disease. Many of the natural toothpaste brands are available in varieties that contain fluoride but are also SLS-free. Make sure you don't negate your quest by using an SLS-free toothpaste that has other questionable ingredients or a relative of SLS in it, such as sodium laureth sulfate. Other ingredients of concern found in many toothpastes include propylene glycol and butylated hydroxytoluene.
Amy Stanbrough is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in "Bust," "Woman's World," "Southern Exposure" and many other publications. Stanbrough holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from George Mason University.