Xylitol, Glycerin & Fluoride in Toothpaste

Originally posted 2010; Updated Feb. 2016.

Q.  I don't care if anyone sees this question, I just didn't know where to ask it. I just recently started to become even more aware of my toothpaste ingredients when I was reading up on oil pulling. Before this I was using a natural brand of flouridated toothpaste. I have recently been using all natural soap and I have found a toothpaste that is flouride and glycerine free. The reason for this is because I read that glycerine can coat the teeth and prevent remineralization and flouride is bad too. My teeth have actually never felt cleaner and I've only been doing it for a few days, I just have this fear that by not using flouride my teeth are going to get cavities. I know it may not be true, but I feel that way because the media tells you to feel that way. I just wanted to know your thought on the subject and maybe some reassurance that I'm doing the right thing. I hope all that made sense. Thanks!


Have you ever thought about developing a REAL all natural toothpaste? I have tried to find an ALL natural one but I have not had any luck. What's your take on fluoride and xylitol ?


A.  Thanks for your questions about toothpaste! 

Regarding glycerin in toothpaste: While there are a lot of websites that say that glycerin coats teeth and leads to decay/sensitivity, etc, there is absolutely no research or basis in chemistry or biology to back this up. It all started with a rumor that one dentist running a website started. Glycerin is highly soluble in water, so if it were left on your teeth from a toothpaste, it would easily dissolve in your saliva. Additionally, the surfactants and abrasives present in the toothpaste formula, plus the brushing mechanism would remove any glycerin. Finally, glycerin is its own preservative and bacteria can't grow in it; if anything glycerin would help protect teeth due to its bacteriostatic action. 

Regarding fluoride:
Unlike other ions like sodium, calcium, fluoride is not a nutrient that your body needs. Your body only sees it as a toxin. It can have a protective effect on teeth, however, the side effects of fluoride are numerous and too much fluoride can actually damage your teeth (called fluorosis.) Fluoride levels can actually make your hair fall out. (See this article.) 

Regarding xylitol:
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that has a significant amount of research behind it regarding safety and efficacy in slowing tooth decay. Here are a few studies:

Xylitol has been found to improve bone health:
Xylitol has been found to be safe for the liver:
Xylitol has been found to have antidiabetic effects:
and to help improve insulin resistance:

I'll be writing more about it over on our sister site,

One word of caution with xylitol--if you have dogs make sure that they don't get a hold of anything that contains it. While it is safe for humans, in dogs it can create unsafe spikes and drops in their blood sugar and can be lethal depending on the dose, size of dog, and their individual blood sugar responses. 


Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride vs. Fractionated Coconut Oil

There's a lot of confusion between fractionated coconut oil and capric/caprylic trigyceride. Some sources say they're the same thing, while other sources say they're different. To fully understand wherein the confusion lies, and to find an answer to the mystery, let's take a look at how each of these ingredients are made. 

Fractionated Coconut Oil

Fractionated coconut oil is created by melting coconut oil and then letting it cool very slowly. The different kinds of fats in the oil will separate based on their differing melting points. This is a physical separation process, no chemical reactions occur. Sometimes a centrifuge is used to help in the separation. Fractionated coconut oil typically refers to the liquid portion of the coconut oil that has been separated from the harder fats. This liquid is commonly used as a carrier oil for aromatherapy, in cosmetic items as an emolient, and in massage. The solid portion can then be used for further processing to create things like stearic acid, or sold raw to make things like coconut "wax" candles.  

What Are Fats?

To fully understand the difference between capric/caprylic triglyceride and fractionated coconut oil, let's first understand a little bit about the chemistry of fats.  

Oils (triglycerides) are made up of two components: a glycerol group (aka glycerin) and fatty acids. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen and can vary in length. (You may have heard of short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids.) Different lengths of fatty acids all have unique names. In a fat, the glycerol group holds three fatty acids together, kind of like a hand with three fingers. (This is where the name *tri*glyceride comes from.) 

a typical triglyceride molecule

Capric and caprylic acids are saturated fatty acids naturally present in coconut oil. They are considered to be medium-chain fatty acids. Capric acid (also known as decanoid acid) has a length of 10 carbon atoms. Caprylic acid (also known as octanoic acid) has a length of 8 carbon atoms. 

Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride

To make capric/caprylic triglyceride, you first have to separate the capric and caprylic fatty acids from the glycerol group in the raw oil. There are a number of ways to do this. One way is through saponifications--aka soapmaking. A strong alkali is able to break apart the glycerol group from the fatty acids (that's why there's glycerin in a natural soap) and react with the fatty acids to create a new compound we know as soap. Another way to split the glycerol from the fatty acids is through steam hydrolysis. Intense heat and pressure is applied to break apart the triglyceride molecule. This is typically the method used in industrial fatty acid production.

So, once the caprylic and capric acids (the fingers) are separated from the glycerol (the hand) they then go through another process called esterification, to add the glycerol group back to the fatty acids. Wait, what? We just went through all that effort to remove the glycerol group--now we're putting it back on? What would be the purpose?

Well, in raw oils, a triglyceride will contain more than one type of fatty acid. (We might have a triglyceride with two chains of stearic acid and one chain of lauric acid. We might have another triglyceride with two chains of capric acid and one chain of oleic acid, and so forth.) So, when we're able to break down the oil and separate the fatty acids from the glycerin, we can then separate and isolate all of the different fatty acids. Then we can put the oil back together with only capric and caprylic acids and then have a "purified" version of the oil that we're now calling capric/caprylic triglyceride. (Also known as glyceryl tricaprylate/tricaprate.) This new purified and standardized oil has different physical properties than the original oil it came from. It feels dryer, less "greasy" and is highly stable because it's all saturated fat, the more unstable fatty acids having been removed. 


So, is capric/caprylic triglyceride *technically* a fractionated version of coconut oil? Well, yes, when the original material is made from coconut oil. The fatty acids have been separated, fractionated, and then put back together in to an oil. BUT, the term fractionated coconut oil refers to just the raw oil that has been separated through physical means. Capric/caprylic triglyceride refers to this new, standardized, fractionated oil that has been created through chemical reactions. capric/caprylic triglyceride safe? Yes. Just as much as any other oil would be. Is it comedogenic? Well, that depends on your particular skin. Any oil has the potential to be comedogenic because it imparts an occlusive barrier on the skin. So it depends on how your particular skin handles oil. However, the oil doesn't turn solid until it gets down to around 40 degrees F, so it doesn't harden on your skin and clog pores in that way. 

To make matters even more confusing, capric/caprylic triglyceride is now being marketed as a supplement known as MCT Oil. (Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil.) The health benefits of MCT oil vs extra virgin coconut oil is a discussion for another day. 


Are Vegan Products Safer?

Taba Asks: 

I use the India product line from I.C.O.N., specifically the shampoo and conditioner. On their bottle, they indicate that it's vegan. I emailed them asking to confirm that these products were certified organic and contains no chemicals. They confirmed that this is accurate. I would greatly value your opinion. 


Just because a product is vegan, doesn't make it safe, natural, or organic.  Sometimes when we think of vegan cosmetics/personal care products, we imagine that it's all made up of vegetables.  That somehow some kale was turned in to a puree, some essential oils added and now it's a shampoo.  But when a product is labeled as "vegan" all that simply means is that there are no animal-derived ingredients.  Petroleum isn't an animal by-product, so, technically it's "vegan."  Petroleum-derived "fragrance" and coal-tar derived artificial colors are "vegan" too.  "Vegan" doesn't mean it's all vegetable-based, just simply absent from animal-derived ingredients.  

So, let's look at one of the products in question, the I.C.O.N. India shampoo. They don't list their full ingredients on their website (our first red flag here.) But I found them listed elsewhere:

Water, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, acrylates, crosspolymer, cetearyl alcohol, ceteareth-20, moringa oleifera seed extract, shea butter, panethenol, hydrolyzed soy protein, rice amino acids, spirulina, fragrance. 

Ceteareth-20 is an ethoxylated chemical, meaning that it's created with the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which can remain in the product, along with its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane. 

Fragrance can be anything from a list of over 3000 different chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting phthalates, neurotoxins, petrochemicals, and allergens.  

Acrylates are plastics known to be strong irritants and allergens.  

Sodium cocoyl isethionate and sodium methyl cocoyl taurate are mild detergents, however, they're new chemicals to the market and not much else is known about them.  While they don't have any known health effects, they are hardly organic as you state the manufacturer claims.  

So, while there may be a couple of natural ingredients in the shampoo, and it may be vegan, it's hardly even natural. (See my definition of natural here.) If they have claimed that their product is organic, either they're blatantly lying or don't understand what organic really means.  


"Coconut Derived Surfactants"


I wanted to ask you about "Naturally derived surfactants from plants/Plant based surfactants," and, "Coconut derived surfactants." I've seen these ingredients (and other name variations) on a lot of soaps at the health food store...but is it just a cover-up for using SLS?


Thanks for your question!  It's a really good one.  What are "coconut derived surfactants" or "plant-based surfactants?" Well, there's no way for us to really know. It's pretty common to see this listed on household cleaning products like laundry detergent and dish soap.  That's because legally, they're not required to disclose their ingredients. If you do see it on a cosmetic product (shampoo, shower gel, etc) it is an illegally labeled product, as these are not proper INCI ingredient listings. "Coconut derived surfactant" can refer to practically anything, from something as innocuous as coco glucoside, to something more harmful like SLES. If you do see a product listed with these ingredients, contact the company and ask them for the exact INCI names of the chemicals used in their products.  



Q. I've seen it in a couple of lotions that I'm using. Is there anything "bad" about hydantoin? -Bethany

A. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database rates it a "0" risk igredient, however, hydantoin has been found in numerous studies to cause birth defects. 

This study found that hydantoin interferes with Folic acid, a key nutrient for the proper fetal development in humans (and most mammals.) (Source) It has been found to create abnormalities in the urinary tract in human fetuses. In mice studies it disrupted the development of the muscosceletal system, ear development, and other abnormalities.  (Source) (Source

The doses that affect development are relatively high (like taking a pill of it every day) and there are no studies on absorption of this chemical through skin, and if dermal application poses a risk. Hydantoin can be a skin irritant in higher concentrations.  All-in-all, I would avoid this ingredient, especially if pregnant.