June Junk Claim #3 – Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Dish Soap Not So Clean As It Contains 1,4-Dioxane

June Junk Claim #3 is Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap and the company’s claim that the products are “always EARTH FRIENDLY.”

Mrs. Meyer’s products are sold and marketed as “green” products. The packaging is retro inspired cute.

But, the thing is, they are not as eco-friendly as you think. For example, the Dish Soap was found to have high levels of the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. In fact, according to testing commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Mrs. Meyers’ Clean Day Dish Soap had the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane in the group of products tested. The levels in the Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap were 204 parts per million (ppm), ten times higher than any other similar product in the study.

1,4-dioxane is a by-product of the ethoxylation process. Ethoxylation is used to make certain ingredients milder and change solubility and foaming properties. It involves the addition of petroleum-derived ethylene oxide. You’ll find 1,4-dioxane in products with ethoxylated ingredients, usually identified by the “eth” – such as sodium laureth sulfate. Several “eth” ingredients are derived from natural sources – such as coconut – so you’ll find carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane in a number of products that claim to be derived from natural ingredients.

Unfortunately, the ethoxylation process results in a contaminant, 1,4-dioxane. So those allegedly naturally derived ingredients can have a carcinogence contaminant that is not identified on the ingredient label.

And Mrs. Meyer’s Liquid Dish Soap has it.

I don’t know if using the product poses a health risk. Since it is a rinse off product intended for use on dishes, I wouldn’t think that there is much dermal exposure (exposure through the skin) at all. Even if used as a hand soap I doubt there is any significant dermal exposure. And exposure from inhalation is probably minimal too.

But, the presence of carcinogenic 1,4-dixoane as a result of using petroleum derived ethylene oxide doesn’t really seem earth friendly to me.

Understanding Labels: PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil & Greenwashing

The personal care/beauty product industry is rampant with greenwashing. Of course – more than 70% of us say we will buy something if we believe it is “natural.” Why wouldn’t the beauty industry try to capture our dollars by marketing their products as natural?

Natural is not a defined legal term. It has no regulatory meaning. So the Food and Drug Administration isn’t policing “natural” claims on cosmetic products (although the Federal Trade Commission may be looking at green claims).

To be honest, the FDA isn’t policing much of anything when it comes to beauty products. The FDA does not conduct premarket testing or reviews of products to determine if they are safe. That is probably the biggest myth of all – that if a product is on the shelf, some government agency must have tested it to make sure it is safe.

So, in any event, basically a company is free to slap that “natural” label on any product. And the companies do.

One of the favorite tactics is “derived from.” As in, this ingredient is derived from coconuts. On the list of ingredients, you’ll see some long sounding chemical name, like ethylmethyldeath, followed by a innocuous name in paranetheses.  So, ethylmethyldeath (coconut). And you think to yourself that it must be totally natural and okay because, well, it comes from coconuts – the company just had to put this chemical name for some reason.

That isn’t always the case. Often, the ingredient is a long way from its natural root.

Take PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, often identified as PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil (Castor Oil). And you think, okay, well it is castor oil. You think, well, that’s nasty to swallow but I know it is natural. Castor oil is obtained from the castor seed. (By the way, did you know that the castor seed contains ricin, an extremely toxic protein removed during cold pressing and filtering. Harvesting castor beans is risky – allergenic compounds on the plant can cause permanent nerve damage. Workers have suffered harmful side effects when harvesting the plants.)

In any event, while castor oil is natural, the PEG-40 in front of this ingredient changes things. As it does with PEG-30 castor oil, PEG-33 castor oil, PEG-35 castor oil and PEG-36 castor oil. These compounds are polyethylene glycol derivatives of castor oil. And, well technically, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil is a polyethylene glycol derivative of hydrogenated castor oil.

What that means is that the castor oil is ethoxylated with ethylene oxide, a petroleum based chemical. Ethylene oxide comes from ethylene (ethylene is oxidized to produce ethylene oxide), and ethylene comes from petroleum via steam cracking. Petroleum may be natural, but it probably isn’t what you meant by natural. And it certainly is not a renewable resource.

As a by-product of the ethoxylation process, the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane may be present as a contaminant unless it is controlled and removed. You won’t see 1,4 dioxane on the ingredient list because it is a contaminant, not an ingredient. But you won’t be able to tell from the product’s label whether the 1,4 dioxane was removed or not – you’ll have to contact the manufacturer to find out.

In terms of safety, absent the carcinogenic concerns with the 1,4-dioxane contaminant, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil is relatively safe on the scale of things. You should know that it isn’t safe for use on injured or damaged skin. It gets a 4 to 6 on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database because of the contamination concern, because of some limits on use, and because of limited evidence of sense organ toxicity.

But the point is is the PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil just isn’t natural – it can’t be with the use of ethylene oxide to produce it. So any product containing it claiming to be natural is just a bunch of hogwash. Or greenwash.

Greenwashing: Beaute de Maman not so beautiful. Or particularly natural.

Polyetheylene plastic beads

I just don’t get the popularity of Beaute de Maman. Or why the line won an Editor’s Choice Award from Pregnancy Magazine in December of last year.

I really don’t get it.

The line is expensive.

But people like it because it is natural. I’ve found it in very upscale boutiques, with sales people touting its benefits.

But, the line is guilty of greenwashing.

 The product advertising states that

Beaute de Maman was conceived by Dr. Brown, an obstetrician whose ongoing mission is to provide safe and effective remedies for the common problems women face during pregnancy. Her fine line of skincare products has been extensively studied and evaluated, as well as allergy and obstetrician tested. The entire line contains only natural and herbal ingredients proven safe for the mother-to-be, the fetus and the breastfeeding baby. 

Those natural claims are repeated in the Connecticut Post and other press about Beaute De Maman.

And therein is my problem. The entire line is supposed to contain “only natural and herbal ingredients” but that isn’t true. Well, at least by my definition of natural.

Let’s take the first product – the facial scrub. The ingredients are:

Water (Purified), Glycerol Stearate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Laureth Sulfocucinate, Sodium Cocoyl, Methyl Taurate, Polyethylene, PEG-100 stearate, Myristyl Myristate, Tridecyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Phenoxyethanol, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, DMDM Hydantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Triethanolamine, Iodopropynyl Butycarbamate

Okay, now realize that polyethylene is a plastic derived from petroleum. That means that this allegedly all natural and herbal facial scrub has tiny microbeads of plastic that pollute our oceans.

Guess what? Lots of the other ingredients are very, very far from “natural.” Take butylene glycol. It is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. In other words, saturated petroleum hydrocarbons are broken down into small hydrocarbons. Or take triethanolamine. Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with ammonia. In turn, ethylene oxide comes from ethylene and oxygen, and ethylene is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking.

Okay, how are those natural? Or herbal?

Last year, I tried to speak with Beaute de Maman about its products. I was specifically interested in the natural claim and also contaminants being present in ceretain ingredients. And I got a fairly snotty response from Laureen Schroeder, VP of Marketing, that kept emphasizing how the company has access to research not available to the rest of us.

First, and most importantly, she said that “we do not claim to be 100% natural – as we could not be effective.” Huh? Isn’t that at odds with the advertising?

She also said:

Our products have been researched using databases and reproduction toxicity reports available only to physicians. . . . According to Reprotox, which are physician only databases  . . .”

Okay Ms. Schroeder, hate to tell you, but Reprotox is a subscription service available to physicians and consumers. So, yes, I use the same databases that you do.

So, many of the ingredients in the facial scrub peaked my interest. Ethylhexyl palmitate, for example, is an irritant, and the CIR panel warns against using in products for use around the eyes or on the skin above a certain concentration. Butylene glycol has the same problem. Several ingredients are ethoxylated and can have the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane as a contaminant, including disodium laureth sulfocucinate and PEG-100 stearate. Phenoxyethanol is phenol reacted with ethylene oxide, which again is petroleum derived.

Now, Ms. Schroeder states that the “facial scrub has no dioxane or carcinogenic compounds. All ingredients used are pure with no contaminants. Again, Intertek, or the FDA of England, did extensive testing of all products and determined that repeated exposure to the ingredients will not cause skin irritation, even with prolonged or repeated use. The ingredients used are well known and present at typical concenetrations where they will not cause irritation or allergy and are deemed safe. There is no formaldehyde or carcinogenic ingredients.”

Okay, so it seems that perhaps the ethoxylated ingredients are vacuum stripped to eliminate the 1,4 dioxane. But when I asked about the detection level used (and we know that is important after the SIGG debacle), I didn’t get a response.

Obviously, formaldehyde isn’t an ingredient. But her statement that there is no formaldehyde doesn’t address whether there are formaldehyde donors. The thing is about formaldehyde donors is that they work by releasing small quantities of formaldehyde to make the environment – the product – less favorable to microorganisms. So how can she claim that there is no formaldehyde produced? I get it that the levels may be very small, but still. Formaldehyde, by the way, is a carcinogen. It also causes contact dermantitis. DMDM Hydantoin, for example, is a formaldehyde donor. Setting asside the whole formaldehyde issue, DMDM Hydantoin is also an irritant, a known human immune system toxicant, and is a human skin toxicant. It is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan. It gets a 7 to 9 (depending on use) in Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Safety Database.

I’m also completely unconvinced by the reliance upon Reprotox. Beaute de Maman banks on its claims that the products are safe for pregnant women. (I have some questions about the specific claims because, well, they seem to cross into the product being a drug, not a cosmetic, but that is for the FDA. And the FTC.) But the thing is, we know that there have not be adequate toxicology reviews of most of the chemicals we use. Looking at the Reprotox entry for DMDM Hydantoin, for example, there is no information in Reprotox other than the CIR’s assessment from 1988. Hello? There has been more information since the industry-funded panel looked at it – and the CIR only considers irritant/allergen type responses for the most part, not developmental toxicity.

And, by the way, Beaute de Maman claims that “these products, cosmeceuticals, have medicinal propertiers in their ingredients ensuring the safety of both mother-to-be and baby.” That certainly sounds like they are super special, right? Just so you know, the FDA does not recognize any such category as “cosmeceutical”, as Beaute de Maman asserts that the products are. A product is a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Why is 1,4 dioxane found in “organic” shampoos?

You’ve made the switch to natural or organic personal care products in an effort to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.  You recognize that the words “natural” and “organic” don’t necessarily mean all that much when it comes to personal care products but you’ve read the labels and are confident in what you bought.  Then, just when you were confident you had done a good thing, you find out that many so-called natural or organic personal care products contain 1,4-dioxane.  What?  The label doesn’t disclose it.  Why the heck would there be 1,4-dioxane in my organic shampoo? 

The Organic Consumers Association released a study that found 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen, in products from JASON Pure Natural & Organic, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Kiss My Face and Nature’s Gate Organics.  About 50% of the products tested had 1,4 dioxane.  A complete list of the products can be found here

The reason?  1,4-dioxane is a contaminant resulting from the ethoxylation.  To make certain ingredients mild, ethylene oxide is added.  A byproduct of this process is 1,4 dioxane. 
So, you can avoid it by not buying products with myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth or any other “eth”; also skip PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene or oxynol.  Another trick – buy products that are certified USDA Organic.  All the USDA Organic certified products in the study were 1,4-dioxane free, including Dr. Bronner’s, Sensibility Soaps (Nourish) and Terressentials (one of my faves!). 
1,4 dioxane is found in numerous conventional personal care products, including Hello Kitty bubble bath to Huggies baby wash to Johhson’s baby wash.  In fact, in conventional products, 1,4-dioxane is found in 57% of baby soap and 34% of body lotions.