Beauty,  green,  product review,  vegan,  vegetarian

What’s in my…toothpaste? Product comparison (Tea Tree Therapy vs. Tom’s of Maine)

Today I have a slightly different post for you. At last week’s #greenchat with +Ana Green (follow her blog here or find her on Twitter), the topic was greenwashing. Loosely defined, greenwashing means that a product or company portrays themselves as very natural and “green” while in fact the products contain plenty of synthetic ingredients, harsh chemicals, etc.

It’s an interesting topic and one that I’ve tried to learn more about, since there are no regulations on how a company uses the terms “natural” or “organic” and the burden is really on the consumer to know what they’re buying. This means understanding the ingredients list on the product. I would be the first to admit that I’m still learning what all of those strange terms on my products really mean, and the #greenchat sent me off on a quest to unravel some of the more puzzling labels in my bathroom cabinet.

I was thinking of doing a little review on these two tubes of “natural” toothpaste we’ve been using anyway, and I thought I might as well compare the ingredients in the two at the same time (since a toothpaste review alone seems like a weird feature for a beauty blog!). If you’d like to see more posts like this one, let me know, and I will do some ingredient comparisons for shampoo, body wash, etc.

Here are the two toothpastes: Tea Tree Therapy Toothpaste with Baking Soda and Tom’s of Maine Whole Care with Fluoride. Tea Tree Therapy is an independent company; Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, which is not green and tests their products on animals. This might not seem like a big deal but if you’re trying to be very, very green, you’ll probably want to stay away from products owned by non-green giant corporations. Both of these products are vegan-friendly and claim to be “natural”, and they both retail for about $5, so let’s see how they compare. If an ingredient scores higher than a zero in the Skin Deep database for possible toxicity/allergens/other, I’ve listed the number (on a scale of one to ten).

Tea Tree Therapy lists the following ingredients for their toothpaste. This product contains no fluoride or artificial sweeteners:

  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • sorbitol — thickener/preservative that can actually have a laxative effect
  • water
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • sodium lauroyl sarcosinate (3) — a foaming, synthetic surfactant
  • flavor
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • titanium dioxide (1-3, depending on usage) — a nanoparticle used as a white pigment
  • melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil (1) — has antiseptic properties but can be an allergen/irritant
  • carum petroselinum (parsley) seed oil — freshens breath
  • helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil — natural cleanser

Tom’s of Maine lists the following ingredients:

  • sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.13% w/v fluoride ion) — fluoride was once used as an insecticide and still has poison warnings on it for over consumption. There is also debate over whether it really helps keep teeth clean and healthy.
  • glycerin — can “coat” teeth and prevent them from re-mineralizing, which can weaken them and cause issues with sensitivity and cavities
  • water
  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • xylitol — a “natural” sweetener that has been widely touted as helping to prevent cavities, but do you know how it’s typically sourced? From GMO corn. Surprised? So was I! It can be derived from birch bark, but it’s much cheaper to get it from GMO corn (of course), so if you don’t see a “non-GMO” label on the package it may be something you want to avoid. If you’d like more info, The Healthy Home Economist has an interesting blog post here talking about why xylitol is not quite as sweet as it seems.
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • spearmint leaf oil and other natural flavors
  • sodium lauryl sulfate (1-2 depending on use) — a foaming agent that can be corrosive and irritating
  • sodium bicarbonate —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • zinc citrate (3) — anti-plaque agent

It’s really interesting to see the difference between these two products. At first glance they both seem really similar, and the Tea Tree toothpaste isn’t 100% free of ingredients that could possibly cause an issue. (However, I don’t think any product is 100% free of such ingredients.) However, the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, which looks very natural, has fluoride, glycerin, xylitol, and a sulfate–not quite as “green” as it looks! That one kind of surprised me.

As far as performance, I don’t see much of a difference between the two. My teeth seem no whiter nor my breath fresher using the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. The Tea Tree Therapy does have a very strong taste but overall I would say it makes my mouth feel fresher. However, I did read that the presence of glycerin in toothpaste is what causes your teeth to feel gummy and I think that my teeth definitely feel less gummy and icky throughout the day with the Tea Tree toothpaste, as opposed to using a conventional paste. So that was kind of an interesting find!

My natural journey is obviously far from over, and I’m learning as I go, but I have to say that it’s really eye-opening to look up the individual ingredients and see what they are, where they come from, and what they do. (Time-consuming, yes, but so worth it!) I don’t know if I’ll buy the Tea Tree Therapy paste again but I probably won’t repurchase the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, now that I know ore about the fluoride and glycerin.

Any natural toothpaste recommendations for me? Have you ever bought a “natural” product and then found a really strange ingredient in it that just didn’t fit?


  • Catherine @ bcrueltyfree

    Great comparison! I really love that you break down the ingredients and show what they do, rather than just go based on the brand’s claims. I used Tom’s for a few months and got this film over my teeth that I’ve never had before/never had again after I switched to a different toothpaste. Not sure why, but it just did not work for me.
    I haven’t found an all natural tooth paste that works for me, but I definitely have seen many that weren’t actually all that “natural”

    • Martha Woods

      Thanks! I won’t buy the Tom’s again. It’s hard to find a “natural” paste that is as natural as they claim–and now that I know that about the glycerin, I definitely don’t want to use it!

  • Caitie

    I’m surprised (but excited) to see that the Tea Tree Therapy doesn’t have glycerin! I had such a hard time trying to find toothpaste without it. I’ve been using Earthpaste, which is probably as natural a toothpaste as you can get. It doesn’t foam at all, but I really like it:)

  • Katrin

    That really is interesting, Martha!I don’t know any of them but it really is shocking to see which ingredients are in a “green” or “natural” product! I usually check and see if the company is owned by any of the bad companies and then stay away from it but I am having a lot more problems deciding what to buy here in America. My Dad even sent me my German one. Sometimes I really miss my German drug store!

    • Martha Woods

      I bet you do!! It must be nice to have such a selection of good products at hand. Most American stores are just so full of chemical products–I think it’s the drive to have the “cheapest” option available, even if it isn’t the best one.

  • Pang Ly

    I don’t know anything about ingredients and their fancy-schmancy names, what they are, and what they do so this was pretty educational :O. I definitely like to read more post like this. I don’t quite get what they consider natural. To me natural is something that is its raw form. Most, if not all, beauty products out there have undergone some sort of process.

    • Martha Woods

      True–most beauty products you find on the shelf have lots of refined ingredients, chemical additives (often for preserving the product) and fillers that add a nice color, texture, or scent. The trouble is that there is no clear definition for what is “natural”, so consumers kind of have to make up their own minds what they will or will not buy depending on the amount of synthetic ingredients in a product. I really don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all benchmark.

      It’s also worth noting that some natural ingredients aren’t always beneficial–for example, chamomile is a natural ingredient, but it can be highly allergenic, as can nut oils. So the term “natural” doesn’t always mean a product is the safest or the best for every shopper!

  • Jasmine

    I love these posts! It’s funny when I have conversations about skincare that is “natural” people ask well is it hypoallergenic like Clinique (which as I am sure you are aware is soooo not natural OR hypoallergenic is makes me cringe) And I explain that Natural does not equal Reaction Free! We can be allergic to so many things, especially in their “natural” state. And people and their Burt’s Bees (which is owned by Clorox, correct??) I’m like your buying a brand and a fake “good for the earth” identity…ugh. I could go on and on. So appreciate these posts that educate and make me think :)

    • Martha Woods

      That’s so true! There are plenty of “natural” things that are allergenic or plain not good for you. I mean, poison ivy is natural, and you don’t see that in skin care :D

  • Sofie

    Wow, didn’t know at all Tom’s is from colgate-palmolive. That might explain why I’m not happy with an ingredient in my deodorant from them too.

    As far as toothpaste goes, I’m using Lavera without fluoride (basis sensitiv). It’s very good priced and I’m happy with it, although there might be xylitol in it as well, have to check that. But it’s certainly a very big improvement to my former regular ones!!

    Great post! X Sofie (Practically Pure)

  • brittany t

    wow this is very interesting. I actually have tried tom’s of maine toothpaste before years ago and I didn’t like it so much (not knowing the ingredients). I did not know they were owned by colgate-palmolive. I use tom’s of maine deodorant! and I am saddened now that they test their products on animals!! oh no!! :( So may i ask what deodorant you use? Where did you buy the tee tree therapy toothpaste? A whole foods or sprouts by chance? Each of these stores are here in az and are considered the organic/healthy go-to stores lol.

    • Martha Woods

      I use a deodorant called Crystal Deodorant (I hope that link works). It’s the best cheap thing I’ve found so far. They have some scented ones too but I tried the lavender/white tea one and I didn’t like it at all–it was kind of stinky!!

      I buy my toothpaste and other products at a local independent health food store–we aren’t lucky enough to have a Whole Foods or other chain up here. (Sad face) But I’m sure you could find them at Whole Foods or Sprouts, too!

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