Nutty for coconut? Then you might want to check your shampoo’s ingredients label. Even the most seemingly all-natural, organic products may contain a cancer-causing ingredient—and we are all only beginning to learn about it.
While the raw, natural form of coconut oil is perfectly safe, the chemically modified version commonly found in personal care products has now been identified as a known carcinogen. Cocamide diethanolamine (or cocamide DEA) is a relatively common foaming or thickening agent found in everything from hand soaps to bath salts to shampoo. And though the base ingredient seems safe enough, the version on your loofa is most likely far from natural.
“DEA compounds have also been found to react with nitrites in cosmetics to form nitrosamines, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified as a possible human carcinogen after studying exposure with animal testing,” explains Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and hair care specialist at Aviva. Those lab experiments found that exposure to high doses could potentially be carcinogenic to humans.
So how much is too much? According to one study conducted by the IARC, one milligram per liquid liter of cocamide DEA in a product constitutes a high dosage and greater risk.
“You should avoid it,” Robinson says. “Findings show that laboratory animals exposed to DEA through their skin or by inhalation over their lifetime experienced adverse effects on several organ systems.”
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Earlier this month, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced the first-ever legal agreements with major companies, including Colgate Palmolive, Saks Inc., Walgreens, and 23 others, to require them to end the use of cocamide DEA in shampoo and other personal care products.
But more than 100 other companies have yet to sign on. And until they do, it’s up to you to read labels, know the facts, and be conscious of which products will truly deliver worry-free cleansing. Check out the CEH site for a list of products containing cocamide DEA, or look for these ingredients in your products:
- Cocamide DEA Cocamide MEA
- DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
- DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
- Lauramide DEA
- Linoleamide MEA
- Myristamide DEA
- Oleamide DEA
- Stearamide MEA
- TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
Lastly, if you use pure coconut oil, don't worry, Robinson says. “It is absolutely still safe to use!”