Monday, March 24, 2008

Know Your Cosmetics Ingredients: 1,4-Dioxane

Photo credit: Getty Images
Reported by the L.A. Times on 3.14.08

If you hadn't heard of 1,4-dioxane before, you probably have now. Much fuss has been made over the cancer-causing toxicant in the wake of revelations that some major "organic" or "natural" brands of soaps, shampoos, and other personal-care products contain small amounts of the petrochemical byproduct—one that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable human carcinogen.

More than half of the 100 products tested came up positive for 1,4-dioxane, including well-known brands such as Alba, Kiss My Face, Seventh Generation, Jason Pure Natural & Organic, and Nature's Gate, according to a report released last week by the Organic Consumers Association, a consumer-advocacy group that hired a third-party lab to conduct the tests. Unlike some of the toxins we've covered before, however, 1,4-dioxane isn't intentionally added to the products, but appears as a byproduct of a process used to soften harsh detergents and is formed when foaming agents are processed with petrochemicals such as ethylene oxide.

Many "natural" companies have tried to eliminate the chemical by using coconut or other plant oils as surfactants, with varying success. We don't know what amount of the compound may be unsafe, but studies of lab animals that had been fed 1,4-dioxane for many weeks developed nasal, liver, and gall-bladder cancers. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set no standards for 1,4-dioxane, it has occasionally tested products for the toxin since the late 1970s, noting that the current levels "do not present a hazard to consumers." Still, the agency has advised the personal-care industry to reduce amounts in cosmetics as much as possible.
The kicker? You won't find 1,4-dioxane listed on any labels, although you may be able to surmise its presence by looking for polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, or compounds with the syllables PEG, -eth, or -oxnol, according to the FDA.

One sliver of hope: Products that are certified as organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food standards, including TerrEssentials, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and Sensibility Soaps, emerged unscathed and untainted. ::Los Angeles Times

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