Diethanolamine – quick infos

chemicalMy previous post concerning shampoos that contain a certain chemical compound that has been found to possibly inhibit brain development and a question by kid has prompted me to do some Googling around to know more about the chemical compound in question; Diethanolamine.

First off from the Wikipedia which defines Diethanolamine as:

is an organic chemical compound which is both a secondary amine and a dialcohol. A dialcohol has two hydroxyl groups in its molecule. Like other amines, diethanolamine acts as a weak base.

Other names or synonyms are bis(hydroxyethyl)amine, diethylolamine, hydroxydiethylamine, diolamine, and 2,2′-iminodiethanol.

Well, that’s your basic info which is quite technical in form and would only confuse the common reader. A layman’s terms definition of diethanolamine can be found in the Cancer Prevention Coalition’s website which has the following information about diethanolamin or DEA:

Q. What is DEA?

A. DEA is diethanolamine, a chemical that is used as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics. DEA is used widely because it provides a rich lather in shampoos and keeps a favorable consistency in lotions and creams. DEA by itself is not harmful but while sitting on the stores shelves or in your cabinet at home, DEA can react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA).(emphasis is mine) NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of N-nitrosodiethanolamine — .” (1) IARC recommends that NDEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded: “There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrosodiethanolamine in experimental animals.”(2) Of over 44 different species in which N-nitroso compounds have been tested, all have been susceptible.(3) Humans are most unlikely to be the only exception to this trend.

There you have it. On its own DEA is not that bad, but once it turns into NDEA that’s a cause for alarm. The important question now is:

Q. Why isn’t this chemical regulated by the FDA?

A. The cosmetics industry is the least regulated industry under the jurisdiction of the FDA. The FDA can make recommendations but it has very little power to enforce them. In 1979 the FDA ordered industry to eliminate NDEA from their products. In 1992, the FDA tested 12 products for NDEA contamination and found that 8 of them still contained this potent carcinogen. While levels have been reduced, there is still an avoidable risk of cancer when nitrosamine contaminated products are used. Even small amounts of this potent carcinogen can increase the risk of cancer.

cosmetic productsWell that’s in the United States, here in the Philippines, Diethanolamine or DEA can be found in cosmetic products and is used as sunscreen agents. Meaning, if your shampoo or any other cosmetic product is labeled “with UV protection” or something similar, it contains DEA specifically Diethanolamine methoxycinnamate (DEA methoxycinnamate).

The use of this chemical compound is regulated by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Food and Drugs by virtue of Bureau Circular No. 12 series of 1997 titled: 1997 UPDATED LISTING OF COSMETIC INGREDIENTS(PDF download)

According to this circular, the allowable concentration of DEA methoxycinnamate in a cosmetic product is a mximum of 3% and such product must have the following message printed on the label:

“This product contains a sunscreen that
assists in protecting the (site of action)
from damage by the sun.”

As of this writing, I cannot find a reference that states that DEA methoxycinnamate can turn into another substance that is a dangerous as NDEA. However, since these compounds are in cosmetic products and it is unlikely that it will be removed by the manufacturers, it is wise to do some precautions to minimize your exposure to these compounds. This can be done by:

      1. stopping the daily use of shampoos, do it every other day

      2. shampooing your hair with cold water

      3. rinse off any product thoroughly after use

Finally, you should also read the labels and ingredients lists of any cosmetic product or any other product for that matter, before buying them. Don’t be shy or afraid of asking questions about health risks or other related information about the product to the sales person or dealer. Better yet, write, e-mail, call or look up the manufacturer’s website for more information or to send your concerns, it is your right to be protected as consumers, after all it is your money and health we’re dealing with.



Scorecard: The Pollution Information Site

Cancer Prevention Coalition

PAN Pesticides Database

One Reply to “Diethanolamine – quick infos”

  1. even without that ingredient present, i still don't use shampoo everyday. the most is 3 times but 2 times a week is my normal use. i'm not sure if the shampoo i'm using right now has the ingredient. i might have to check later. thanks for the heads-up. 🙂

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