Ingredient Watch: Diethanolamine

Reader Contribution by Allison Martin
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Diethanolamine (DEA) and DEA-related ingredients are suspected of human carcinogenic activity, according to the European Commission, which prohibits their use in cosmetics. This group of chemicals is used as emulsifiers, foaming agents and pH-adjustors in products such as soaps, shampoos, eyeliners, mascaras, foundations, sunscreens and more. DEA and its relatives have been associated with cancer in rodents when used topically, according to the National Toxicology Program. Once they make their way into product formulations, these substances can also lead to the formation of powerful carcinogens known as nitrosamines—impurities you won’t find on any ingredient list—which form as the DEA breaks down and combines with other ingredients, such as preservatives. Ingredients related to DEA may be listed as: cocamide DEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA-oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, monoethanolamine (MEA), cocamide MEA, linoleamide MEA, stearamide MEA, triethanolamine (TEA), TEA-lauryl sulfate.

Photo by Fotolia

Fun Facts

• 1,378 ingredients banned from cosmetics in Europe by the EU Cosmetics Directive
• 11 ingredients banned from cosmetics in the U.S. by the FDA

Photo courtesy Environmental Working Group

Buy Better

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