Polyethylene microbeads get most of their hype and negative press from their presence in face washes. Their gentle exfoliating abilities made them all the rage in face and body washes just a few years ago.
But do your teeth need gentle exfoliation? Not likely.
After months of prodding, Procter & Gamble Co., the makers of Crest brand toothpastes, say PE will be completely removed from its dental products by March 2016.
“While the ingredient in question is completely safe, approved for use in foods by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and part of an enjoyable brushing experience for millions of consumers with no issues, P&G understands there is a growing preference for them to remove this ingredient. So P&G will,” said a company spokesperson, via email. “The majority of Crest product volume will be microbead-free by March 2015. Crest will complete the removal process by March of 2016, well ahead of any state legislation targets.”
With a bill signed into law in June, Illinois has a statewide ban on microbeads in personal care products, with the phase-out beginning in 2017 and a complete ban by 2019.
Ohio, California and New York are also considering bans, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) taking the fight to the federal level by introducing a nationwide ban on microbeads in facial scrubs, body washes, hand cleansers, and toothpaste in the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) earlier this year sought to amend current law to prohibit the sale or distribution of cosmetics containing synthetic plastic microbeads as of Jan. 1, 2018, but so far his bill has seen no action.
The concern centers on the fact that existing wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to capture microbeads before they slip into waterways.
When the outcry over the pieces of PE began in 2012, personal care product companies scrambled to reassure consumers of their shared concerns for the environment and began reformulating products and making pledges. Unilever has promised to remove microbeads from its products as of Jan. 1, 2015, as has The Body Shop. Johnson & Johnson plans to be free of microbeads by the end of 2015.
Cincinnati-based P&G said earlier this year it expects its PE phaseout to take until 2017, but would not comment specifically on the presence of microbeads in its toothpastes until now — months after blog posts by Texas dental hygienist Trish Walraven detailed the horrors and risks of PE lodged below the gumlines of her patients and even her own children, all of them users of at least one of the nearly 20 toothpastes in the Crest line that include the plastic.
The company says the PE was included in the toothpaste formulas to add color and visual appeal and that the ingredient was approved by the FDA. The American Dental Association (ADA), which has given its seal of approval to some Crest products, including Crest ProHealth, stands behind its endorsement, at least for now.
“The American Dental Association's Council on Scientific Affairs, on an ongoing basis, monitors and evaluates the safety of all ADA Seal-Accepted products. 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,” said an ADA statement this week. “The Council will continue to monitor and evaluate new scientific information on this issue as it becomes available.”