Can I not use any preservatives in a toothpaste formulation?

In a toothpaste formulation with a lot of herbal extract, like Mhyrr, Rathania, Salvia, Chamomilla, Echinacea, or Calendula with hamamemlis or tea tree oil with salvia i think that's a lot of antimicrobials. Is a preservative necesary? 
what do you think? 


  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    Yes, you should use a proper preservative.  Herbal extracts are not going to properly preserve a product.  It's a huge liability if your toothpaste becomes contaminated and people get ill from it.  This is not an area where you want to take risks.  
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details
  • I work for a toothpaste manufacturer. We removed the paraben preservatives quite some time ago and swapped over to totarol; however the amount used is more for claim than for preservation and to use up some existing stock that was bought for a customer and never used.

    We have found that our aseptic manufacturing procedures, combined with high pH (8-9.5 depending on formulation), and low water activity does allow us to manufacture without the use of preservatives.

    I would add to that, until you have completed your post manufacturing micro, micro assays on all incoming raw materials and your stability trials you should not attempt to release a product unless you are confident it will not spoil.

    We have a three year shelf life on our products, but we have tested and can show our products are safe for six years beyond manufacturing date.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    I'll never understand why people think a lack of preservatives is a positive thing.
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    edited August 2019
    @Perry Self-preservation is also preservation, it just sounds nicer to print a "Contains no preservatives" on a package because consumers love that phrase.
    Most of the toothpastes here around don't contain extra preservatives because toothpastes usually have a very low water activity (a high amount of polyols in most cases, sometimes also PEGs). As stated by @Herbnerd, many toothpastes are also alkaline.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @Pharma - yeah, I get why marketers do it and that self-preservation is a real thing.

    What I was lamenting was the fact that consumers find the phrase "no preservatives" compelling. It is all learned through fear marketing & refers to a feature of the product but not to any benefit. Saying "no preservatives" is as helpful as claiming "no radiation."  True enough, but so what?

    On the flip side, there are lots of "no preservatives" or "no paraben" products that aren't safe. Efforts to make a meaningless, fear marketing claim has resulted in the development of less safe cosmetic products.
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    edited August 2019
    Not just there, you won't believe how many manicurists and podiatrists we have who think that adding some salt or a few ml vinegar to the washing solution suffices to sterilise their equipment. It goes without saying that they are valuable contributors to our business by creating new wonderfully sick customers :smiley: . Well, it's disgusting to see those feet... but what don't you do for $$$?
    And the other guy who sells home-made sun and love imbued aqueous flower potions in his esoteric store... preserved with some drops of schnapps.
    Honestly, it's very astonishing that we don't have more deadly sick or even dead people. Human stupidity is really scary! Ever heard the proverb "You don't mind if you're dead, it's only hurtful for the others... it's they same if you're stupid."
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    edited August 2019
    If the toothpaste is packaged in a traditional manner it will also get some protection from the packaging. I often see some DIY adjacent lines place it in a "jar" or a "pot" and lose this protection.

    I understand and appreciate self-preservation when done properly. If someone follows the "hurdle technique" and takes other measures, it is certainly possible. Any credible Formulator would follow-up with testing. It takes a highly credible and technical approach.  The problems arise when someone inexperienced and unaware of the care it requires simply reads a few sources, adds an ingredient or two and then assumes the product is preserved. There is no follow-on testing and it arises from the overconfidence that we see in so many beginners. In these cases, marketing is king ("people don't like preservatives") and the Science is faulty. It may sound as if I am picking on a certain market sector, but I am retained to "fix" one of these gross errors at least 3 times a quarter. Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    If you weigh the perceived market benefit of being able to say "Preservative Free" and the incremental sales you would get from that claim versus the potential costs of a product recalls, lawsuits, etc. ... even if your "self-preserving" system works ... it's a product people are putting in their mouths on a brush that can lacerate the skin ... perfect for an opportunistic infection.

    I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a huge market clamoring for "Preservative Free" toothpaste.  I find it ironic that people who knowingly consume preservatives in their food products would have a problem with food-grade preservatives in their toothpaste.

    Going back to the OP's original question, no offense, but it would not appear to me to be particularly knowledgable in the area given the question.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    edited August 2019
    I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a huge market clamoring for "Preservative Free" toothpaste.  I find it ironic that people who knowingly consume preservatives in their food products would have a problem with food-grade preservatives in their toothpaste.
    I don't think that, except maybe for eco-labels, any of all the toothpastes we sell (and which are without added preservatives) claim that they are actually preservative free, it's the same marketing on them as always "New formulation, bright white teeth, no caries...". If brands such as Colgate, Meridol, Elmex, Sensodyne, Odol etc. don't use it, it means that that trend has not (yet) arrived in the toothpaste sector.
  • Thanks for all the helpful information. I have just logged into the website to find out what I could use for my toothpaste (Also “natural” , in a glass jar. No water in actual formula…).

    I noticed that’s a competitor of mine is using sodium lactate? I’m finding it hard to find a natural preservative. Would any of you darlings be able to name some that I can research? Would be much appreciated. Love and light
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    Do you understand you right that you mean sodium lactate as preservative? Nope, that's certainly not working.
    Define 'natural'.... natural is a very ambiguous term and can be twisted and interpreted every which way. If there's no water, higher pH, and probably some polyols (glycerol, sorbitol), you'll be fine.
  • PhilGeisPhilGeis Member, Professional formulator
    Some toothpaste products do not include preservatives.  Combination of pH, water activity, pyrophosphates, flavor (esp. peppermint) may be effective. Risk is largely manufacturing as tube packaging substantially reduces risk of consumer contamination.
    Sodium lactate is not a preservative.
    Preservation is your responsibility.

  • WOW - thanks gentleman  :open_mouth:
    1. I have to have a broad spectrum bacteria test done. 
    2. Want to cover myself and preserve the shelf life in summer. As "naturally as possible) Currently prob 4 months is shelf life with vit e.
    2. Id like to make sure that my product passes . Start-up (teeny weeny) company here!!! 
    3. Would love to hear YOUR professional opinion  ;)
    4. You mention mint. My other toothpaste consists of cardamom. Apparently even stronger than mint as it breaks through almost ALL bacteria cell membranes. 

    I do use a fair amount of xylitol in my tooth-clay. - polyol? I find that the oil becomes rancid in warm summer months in South Africa.

    Calcium Carbonate*^, Bentonite Clay, Ceylon Cinnamon*^,
    Bicarbonate Of Soda, Grapeseed Oil* , Himalayan Salt*, Green tea,
    Aloe Vera^, Vit. E^.Mentha piperita* (Mint), Thymus Vulgaris* (Thyme), 
    Eugenia caryophyllata(Clove)*


    Calcium Carbonate*^ Bentonite Clay Ceylon Cinnamon*^, 
    Bicarbonate Of Soda^, Grapeseed Oil*^ , Himalayan Salt*^,
    Green tea^, Aloe Vera^, Vit. E^. Citrus Aurantium Dulcis*(Orange)^, Elettaria cardamomum (Cardamom)
    Bicarbonate Of Soda^, Himalayan Salt*^, Vit. E^*, Nutmeg^, Clove^*,

    Have a lovely day.

  • PhilGeisPhilGeis Member, Professional formulator
    4 months?  If selling - how will you ensure consumers will not use any products older than 4 months?
    Where did you get that info re cardamom ?
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    Those formulations look more like one issue which isn't microbial: rancidity of grapeseed oil. Tocopherol can help, maybe think about adding ascorbyl palmitate or other oil soluble antioxidants or simply replace it with a more stable oil?
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