I recently published a post about no longer using Davids Natural Toothpaste because it contains carrageenan. Shortly after, the Founder and President of Davids sent me an email defending his product and this convtoversial ingredient, which you can read in full here. I really appreciate the time and effort Mr. Buss took to write to me, and he definitely makes a compelling argument for the safety of carrageenan in his product. However, I also appreciate this opportunity to share with you how and why I decide which self-care products and ingredients are not right for me.
If you’re short on time or just here for my bottom line: I am still going to avoid carrageenan in my food and toothpaste. I do not think this ingredient or product is terribly harmful and don’t even necessarily recommend that everyone else avoid it as well. The things that we choose to put in and on our bodies are very personal and sometimes private choices, and I will probably never say that one ingredient should or should not be used by every single person.
My self-appointed job here is to share my health journey and process with you, and hope that it maybe sparks some interest in you to learn more about what you buy and use on your body and in your home. I respect everyone’s right to choose, but I think that choices should be informed and the current media/advertising/regulatory systems surrounding personal care products is confusing at best (and deceptive at worst). I absolutely do not know every ingredient when I read most labels. I have not personally conducted or participated in any research regarding any cosmetic and self-care ingredients. The way I choose to inform myself is to find 1) basic information (via a dictionary, encyclopedia, Wikipedia, etc.), 2) sources that I respect and trust (scientists, health experts, bloggers, parents, certain product creators and companies, etc.), and 3) at least two different opinions (there are many who even believe parabens are safe, but that’s a topic for another day).
For the topic of carrageenan, here we go!
First of all, Encyclopedia Britannica defines carrageenan as a “species of red alge…used for curing leather and as an emulsifying and suspending agent in pharmaceuticals, food products, cosmetics, and shoe polishes” (link). This unusual variety of uses and the association with shoe polish already raises a red flag for me, but hey, water must be an ingredient in most posions.
Second, some sources that I trust for health information include medical & health journals; experts like Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac; and Katie Wells of Wellness Mama, an award-winning blogger and kickass mom of six. I also trust and respect Eric Buss, the founder of Davids Natural Toothpaste. Realistically, probably no one knows his product or ingredients better than him.
For the third part of my critical process, I need at least two different opinions of carrageenan. We already have Mr. Buss’ (and his sources’) opinion that carrageenan is completely safe, so I will share a different opinion from the other sources mentioned above.
Wellness Mama has an article that tackles carrageenan in foods, and points out that it
“has no nutritional value and is not digestible.”
You hopefully aren’t using toothpaste in a way that requires your body to digest the ingredients, but I think it’s an important fact to point out and informs much of the other information regarding this ingredient. She then cites an article that states carrageenan
“appears to be destructive to the digestive system, triggering…an immune response that dials up inflammation.”
Wells goes on to differentiate between the two types of carrageenan—degraded and undegraded (which Mr. Buss touched on)—but ultimately concludes that just because degraded is worse, undegraded isn’t necessarily completely safe. Finally, Wellness Mama’s conclusion is that carrageenan
“may not be as bad as some sources portray, but there is evidence that it can be harmful, especially if consumed regularly. Many people report reacting negatively with symptoms like digestive troubles, skin rashes, and other health problems. Our family avoids it for this reason, especially as it is just used for thickening products and does not serve [an essential] purpose.”
Next, an article in the Journal of Alternative Medicine Research evaluates the safety of carrageenan in a variety of uses, and concludes that it
“may be harmful in those with cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, hematologic, and immunologic conditions.”
Finally, Chris Kresser tackled an entire series on thickening additives from carrageenan to magnesium sterate and soy lecithin to the alternatives mentioned by Mr. Buss in his email: xanthan gum and guar gum. Click here to read Kresser’s article on carrageenan, and here to read his overall analysis of these additives. Again, his primary focus is on these ingredients in food. I don’t want to just copy and paste his entire articles, but here are the takeaways:
“As a general rule, gums can be problematic for those with digestive issues simply because they’re mostly indigestible, but it’s very unlikely any of them will actually cause harm.”
“Because I’ve covered a lot of different additives with similar applications (primarily thickening or emulsifying), I’ll try to rank them for you. First, do your best to avoid carrageenan. The concerns [may be] largely overblown, but it definitely shows the highest potential for harm among the additives we’ve discussed, and with all of the choices available to us, it should be pretty easy to find a brand that doesn’t use it.”
Guar and xanthan gum are further down the list.
As I compare these two different opinions of carrageenan, I am happy to find a lot of middle ground. Nothing sticks out as wildly concerning or drastically different from the other side. Nowhere (other than briefly in Wellness Mama’s article) is this ingredient suggested to have super serious negative health implications. In fact, almost all sources agree that it is probably harmless. I do acknowledge that most research and evidence discussed here is based on ingesting carrageenan. However, three issues that still stick out to me are
1) there is a slight possibility that carrageenan is more destructive to the digestive system than alternative thickening additives,
2) I use toothpaste every day, twice a day, and the mouth and gums are very absorbent and sensitive (many vitamins/supplements can be dissolved or administered in the mouth, like vitamin D drops, for example), and
3) if there’s even a question, and if I can find a product without the potentially problematic ingredient, why risk it??
After this critical process, I am left still not wanting to use toothpaste with carrageenan in it. I have some substantial health concerns and incredibly strict dietary restrictions, and feel like ignoring ingredients in my toothpaste would be counterproductive. Regardless, it’s my personal choice and I feel confident about it after this process. I still have an extra tube of Davids Natural Toothpaste under my sink, and if I ever run out of the other toothpaste I choose to use, I will absolutely use Davids until I buy more of my preferred brand. I would still recommend Davids Toothpaste to anyone looking to switch to a safer and healthier toothpaste, especially if being fluoride free, sulfate free, American made using renewable energy and from a passionate founder are their interests. I still love everything about Davids that I discussed in my blog post about it here. I just won’t be buying it anymore.