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.

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  1. Ethoxylation is a nasty chemical process involving the use of ethylene oxide (a known breast carcinogen), and no serious “natural” company should be using it! Unfortunately, many are, and consumers are confused because there are no legal standards whatsoever for “natural” or “organic” personal care products sold in the United States. This needs to change. Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at http://www.safecosmetics.org to get involved in the effort to give the beauty industry a safety makeover. In the meantime, the best bet is to choose products certified by the USDA Natinoal Organic Program, or use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at http://www.safecosmetics.org and choose products that are not flagged as potentially contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.

    Stacy Malkan
    Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
    Author, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry”

  2. 1,4-dioxane is an ingredient that stands out as questionable even before I knew what it was. Now that I know that it is a known human carcinogen with mixed with other chemicals, I don’t buy products that contain this ingredient.

  3. Is the Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap safe enough to use on a baby/toddler? Also, I noticed you recommend that Earth Mama Angel Baby brand, but I couldn’t find the USDA mark on their products. Are they still better to use? Thanks for the help!

    P.S.: I’d love to see a list of toys you’ve purchased for your children. I’m having such an exhausting and difficult time trying to solve the mystery of what is safe and what is not.

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