Plastic microbeads are commonly found in personal care products, including exfoliating face washes and cosmetics. But there’s one product consumers don’t expect to find these microplastics: their toothpaste.
The recent concerns over plastic microbeads, made from polypropylene or polyethylene, are valid. They wash through municipal sewage treatment centers, and make their way into natural waterways. These tiny beads build up in oceans and lakes, and they’re nearly impossible to remove.
These plastics are eaten by marine life, and they often make their way up the food chain to our dinner plates.
But the environmental concerns are just one piece of the puzzle. The microbeads found in toothpaste can actually contribute to gum disease.
Over time, these tiny plastic beads can get stuck in the gum line.
Dr. J Phillip, a dentist in Chandler, AZ, warns that these microbeads can lead to gingivitis and, eventually, periodontal disease. These beads, he says, trap bacteria in the gumline, which can lead to inflammation and infection.
To make matters worse, these tiny plastic beads don’t serve a purpose. They are only added to toothpaste for aesthetics.
Trish Walraven, dental hygienist and blogger, was the first to sound the alarm about microbeads in toothpaste when she wrote a post about finding pieces of blue plastic in her patients’ mouths “every single day.” Walraven found that the microplastics did not dissolve in acetone or alcohol.
These tiny bits of plastic were becoming lodged in the gums of her patients. By raising awareness of the issue, Walraven caught the attention of major toothpaste manufacturers. Some of those brands have promised to remove microbeads from their products.
Because of environmental and health concerns, states are cracking down on microbeads. Illinois was the first state to ban them, and they have been phased out completely as of 2019. Similar laws have been passed in New Jersey, Colorado, Maine, California, Indiana, Maryland, Connecticut and Wisconsin. In California, biodegradable microbeads are permitted.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 has prohibited the import and manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads since 2017.
Consumers can ditch micro plastics by avoiding products that contain “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.” The Plastic Soup Foundation also provides a list of products containing microplastics as part of their “beat the microbead” campaign.
The U.S. isn’t the only country to take action against microbeads in toothpaste and other personal care products. As of 2018, the UK has banned all toothpastes that contain microplastics.
- Philipp Centers for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry
3230 S Gilbert Rd #4, Chandler, AZ 85286