Will Brazil Ban Plastic Microbeads From Toothpaste Like The US?
(POR) The Story (Click here for a partial list of Brazilian products): A dental hygienist (Trish Walraven) from Texas started a media frenzy recently after blogging about little blue dots that she was finding wedged in the gums of her clients’ teeth. She and other hygienists and dentists across the country started noticing the little specks as far back as 2-years ago. But they couldn’t identify them until recently – tiny particles of polyethylene plastic, called microbeads. The subject received national attention recently with the help of consumer awareness and rejection. The best part? Manufacturers have stated that the beads are added to make the toothpaste look more appealing. So they serve no purpose at all. For a partial list of Brazilian products, click here, or at this link. For a list of US products, see the following link, link.
- Section 1: What Is Polyethylene?
- Section 2: Can Microbeads Hurt You?
- Section 3: The Toothpaste Company’s Response.
- Section 4: The Best Ways To Avoid Products With Microbeads.
- Section 5: Brazil: What You Can Do To Ban Plastic in Toothpaste.
- Section 6: Brazil: Related News & Initiatives.
Regarded as the most common plastic in the world, it is the same material used to make anything from bottles to grocery bags, to plastic wraps, to food containers and even trash cans. And now? As microbeads for toothpaste and other cosmetic and personal-care products. In fact, popular toothpastes from Crest (such as the company’s Pro-Health and 3D White) have made the microbeads standard for years! But many consumers don’t even know they’re brushing their teeth with plastic (LINK) (LINK).
There are little channels in our gums around our teeth that are like cuticles around a fingernail. This gum channel is called a sulcus, and is where diseases like gingivitis get started. A healthy sulcus is no deeper than about 3-millimeters. When hundreds of pieces of plastic are being scrubbed into your gums (that are even smaller than a millimeter) each day, many can get trapped down there, Ms. Walraven explained (LINK). And anytime that you have a foreign body in the pocket around the tooth, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. This then is the kind of condition that leads to gum disease. The big question, however, is whether you want your kids using this stuff? Young children aren’t nearly as careful about swallowing toothpaste, so some of it stands to be digested.
The “Crest” brand in the US appears to have the most products with plastic. Proctor & Gamble (P&G), the brand’s parent company, has heard from so many upset consumers in the US that it recently decided to remove the microbeads from affected Crest products within 6-months, and completely by March 2016 (LINK). “While the ingredient in question is completely safe… we understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient. So we will.” (LINK)
But what about Brazil, where the Oral-B, Colgate and Sorriso products have been found with the microbeads? Since P&G owns Oral-B, it could just as easily remove the beads from their Brazilian products as well. But it would probably require a similarly aggressive response from the public as what occurred in the US. Time will tell.
Below is a list of products known to contain the polyethylene plastic microbeads in Brazilian toothpaste (September 2014). Note that this is only a partial list, due to random sampling. Based on what was discovered in a more comprehensive US survey, there are likely more products with microbeads (from these brands) that aren’t listed below:
- Oral-B 3D White
- Oral-B complete – Whitening + enxaguatório bucal menta duradoura
- Oral-B 3D White Luxe Diamond Effect
- Oral-B 3D White – 140g
- Colgate Luminous White (phasing out microbeads)
- Colgate Sensitive Multiproteção (phasing out microbeads)
- Sorriso Xtreme White (hortelã) (phasing out microbeads)
- Sorriso Xtreme White (menta fresca) (phasing out microbeads)
- Read the box labels, not the tube label (where it isn’t usually listed).
- Don’t purchase products with “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” listed on either the ingredients or inactive ingredients labels.
- Download the (1) Beat The Micro-Bead App, scan the (2) barcodes of products with your smartphone, and (3) receive an answer. (More about “Beat The MicroBead” Smartphone App: LINK)
- If you’ve already purchased one of these toothpastes you can take it back to the retailer where you bought it. Make sure that the manufacturer knows why you’re returning it, and ask for a refund. You may not get one, but it will send a message to the retailer that you won’t buy it anymore.
- File a complaint. Call Customer Service (in Brazil) at: 08000 11 5051. Report an adverse health effect, namely, that you’re concerned that plastic pieces may be getting trapped in your mouth.
- Click here to send an email to P&G (Oral-B’s parent company) about their products with microbeads.
- Share this post! Tell friends and family that you are concerned about the plastic in their toothpaste when you repost this.
- Petição para Gisele Bündchen – Não colabore, propaganda da Oral-B 3D White
- Petição para O Boticário – Retirem as microesferas de plástico de seus produtos cosméticos
- Microesferas de cremes dentais – dentistas americanos as encontraram nas gengivas…
The Rest Of The Story – Who Takes Responsibility:
- Proctor & Gamble’s (P&G’s) complete statement to KNXV: “While the ingredient in question is completely safe, approved for use in foods by the FDA, and part of an enjoyable brushing experience for millions of consumers with no issues, we understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient. So we will. We currently have products without microbeads for those who would prefer them. We have begun removing microbeads from the rest of our toothpastes, and the majority of our product volume will be microbead-free within six months.” (LINK)
The US Food & Drug Administration (US FDA), for its part, says it has never approved microbeads to be put in toothpaste, which it considers to be an over-the-counter drug. Polyethylene is allowed to come in contact with food, but there has been no ruling saying it is safe to consume. And since the microbeads are not considered to be an active ingredient in toothpaste, the FDA hasn’t been monitoring them. The agency puts the onus on manufacturers to determine the safety of inactive ingredients in OTC drugs. (LINK)
“For over-the-counter monograph drug products, such as Crest toothpaste, manufacturers have the responsibility to ensure that all inactive ingredients are safe and suitable for their intended use,” said FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura. “If a product’s inactive ingredients are determined by the agency to pose a health risk for consumers, the agency may have the manufacturer address the issue, or take other appropriate enforcement actions. FDA is not immediately aware of any safety issues with this product.” As for claims that the FDA has approved polyethylene’s use as an additive in foods, which would mean it’s OK to add it to toothpaste, the FDA responded that that is wrong on two fronts. “By definition, food additives are for their intended use in food,” Ventura said. “Toothpaste is regulated as a drug product and is not considered food.” (LINK)
“Polyethylene is the subject of several effective food contact notifications and is included in several food additive regulations for use in food contact materials. It is approved for use in several indirect or food contact applications, but not for direct addition to food. It is also approved for use as a protective coating on some certain fresh fruits and vegetables (such as bananas), and certain nuts in shells. Food contact substance applications for polyethylene include: plastic wraps, bags and food containers.” (LINK)
- The American Dental Association (ADA) has also endorsed it as nontoxic, and stated last week that, “The ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, on an ongoing basis, monitors and evaluates the safety of all ADA Seal-Accepted products,” the association said in a statement this week. “If the council’s evaluation determines sufficient scientific evidence exists that an ADA Seal-Accepted product poses a health risk, the council has the authority to withdraw the Seal from that product.” At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the Seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads.” (LINK, LINK)
- What About Dentists & Hygienists? Although dentists haven’t logged any medical problems (ex: infections, gum disease, etc.) to date, they are advising patients to find alternative toothpaste products without microbeads. And honestly – who wants a bunch of tiny shards of plastic stuck all over their mouth under the gum line if you can avoid it by using a different product?!
Where Microbeads Do Real Damage:
- Microbeads are used in hundreds of personal care products now, to include things like chewing gum, toothpaste, shaving cream, shower gel and exfoliating scrubs. Three notables: (1) They aren’t biodegradable and can therefore last virtually forever, which means that pieces can only break down into smaller pieces. (2) They tend to attract persistent organic toxics (called POPs). And finally, (3) they are used in substantial quantities. How much per product you may ask? The Institute for Environmental Studies found that “a 200-ml bottle (of facial scrub) contained as much as 21-grams of microplastics, or roughly a tenth of its weight.” That is 10% by volume (LINK). They range in size from 0.0004 to about 1.24 millimeters, and are therefore too small for the catch-filters at water treatment plants. So they get flushed into waterways, ending up in lakes and rivers where they float, absorb toxins, and then get eaten by marine animals since they resemble fish eggs. To date, they’ve been found throughout the marine environment – from Lake Geneva to as far as the North Pole. And in one study it was found that it takes a freshwater mussel 47-days to flush out ingested microbeads (LINK). Research in the great lakes region of the US in 2012-13 found “a horrifying 1,500 to 1.1 million particles of plastic per square mile, with the highest concentration in Lake Ontario (LINK).” This discovery is what inspired the state of Illinois to enact a ban so quickly (see below).
- That said, these itsy bitsy plastic pieces aren’t the biggest threat to our water, but they do pose problems. Toxins like insecticides and industrial chemicals can glom onto the microbeads. When fish eat them, the plastic balls get stuck in their digestive tracts and the fish absorb the toxins into their tissues. (Then guess what happens when we eat those fish?) Further, there’s some evidence that when aquatic organisms eat plastic, it fools them into thinking they’re full, so they eat less real food and don’t grow as much. (LINK) Considering how readily available alternatives are, there is no reason to use plastic in this manner. In fact, there are natural and biodegradable materials like ground nut shells and salt crystals that could easily replace them, depending on the product usage.
Initiatives to Ban Microbeads from Products:
- US State Initiatives To Ban Beads: (June 2014) Illinois became the first jurisdiction in the world to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products. But it doesn’t go into effect until 2017. Other states that have similar bills in the works are California and New York, both of which were introduced in February 2014. But both are still working their way through the system.
- US Company Initiatives To Ban Beads: (3 Companies) Unilever, The Body Shop and Johnson & Johnson have committed to phasing out micro beads by 2015 in all products. As of July 2013, P&G (Proctor & Gamble) said that they would discontinue micro plastics in all products by 2017. But they will phase out microbeads in the majority of their toothpaste products within 6-months, and that that their toothpaste products will be completely free of plastic by 2016. Will this accelerate their timeline considering that they agreed to remove the beads from toothpaste? Probably not.