Cocamide DEA Discovered In 98 Personal Care Products


Over the past twelve years, I have done extensive research on many questionable ingredients used in soap, skin and hair care products and have noticed something very troubling.

When an ingredient used in personal care products comes under fire for being potentially dangerous, the cosmetic industry justifies its use by arguing that the tests and studies were done on animals, the results are inconclusive for humans, so, therefore, the ingredient is safe.

And yet how many times have we seen a commercial for a new product where a company states something like, “Made with our 'secret' ingredient' and studies have shown that our 'secret ingredient'  reduces wrinkles and reverses the aging process.”

It is interesting that they fail to mention that most of these “studies” and tests were also done on animals. Perhaps those results are inconclusive for humans! This a clear case of wanting to “have your cake and eating it too?



Is There Cocoamide DEA
in Your Skin & Hair Care? 

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reported on August 30, 2013, that independent testing revealed that cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), a cancer-causing chemical, was discovered in 98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold by major national retailers.

Cocamide DEA is often listed with the words "derived from" coconuts. While it is true that cocamide DEA is made using fatty oils from coconuts, it is then processed with the chemical diethanolamine.  

Cocamide DEA, a chemically-modified form of coconut oil used as a foaming agent or thickener, is used in many personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, sanitizers, hand washes, hand moisturizers, bubble baths, exfoliants, bath scrubs and bath oils.

The federal National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association Cocamide DEA Toxic Chemical in Shampoobetween the topical application of diethanolamine (DEA) and cancer in laboratory animals.

When news came out about the cancer-causing potential of DEA consumer pressure forced many manufacturers to take a hard look at their ingredients. So what did they do? They decided to substitute ingredients like lauramide DEA or cocamide MEA. Unfortunately, these chemicals were also found to be carcinogenic.

In February 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed Cocamide DEA, long known as a skin irritant, as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen, which identifies this ingredient as a possible carcinogenic to humans. In 2012 it was listed by California as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65.

Many cosmetic companies argue that testing on animals does not present undisputed evidence that cocamide DEA is dangerous to use on humans. They cite a study that determined that the chemical is safe at levels below 10% in rinse off products.

Natural Organic ShampooThis past summer the Center for Environmental Health purchased a variety of personal care products and then commissioned an independent lab to determine the total content of cocamide DEA contained in each product.

In many cases, products contain more than 10,000 ppm cocamide DEA, and one shampoo tested at more than 200,000 ppm (20 percent) cocamide DEA. Products tested with cocamide DEA include shampoos made by Colgate-Palmolive, Paul Mitchell, Lush, and many others.


Charles Margulis, Communications Director and Food Program Director of CEH stated:

"The state has not set a [safety] level specific to cocamide DEA, but the levels we found exceed levels typical for carcinogens. Our demand is that companies reformulate their products, without cocamide DEA. There are many similar shampoos and soaps on the market made without the chemical, so it is obviously possible to make the products safer."

Synthetic-ShampooAs a result of this investigation, CEH is suing four companies that make or sell products containing cocamide DEA and has sent legal letters to more than 100 other companies to let them know that their products violate California state law.


Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, recently said:

“Most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo. We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health.”


In addition to many brand-name shampoos and personal care products, the CEH testing found cocamide DEA in store-brand products purchased at Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Pharmaca and Kohls. Even a store brand of children’s bubble bath from Kmart and a children’s shampoo/conditioner from Babies R Us were also found to contain cocamide DEA.

Products from Organic by Africa’s Best, falsely labeled as “organic,” also tested foNatural Organic Baby Skin Carer high levels of cocamide DEA, definitely not an organic ingredient. The Center for Environmental Health won a legal settlement with this company requiring it to end its use of deceptive organic labels.

In my blog titled “Skin: The Largest Organ Of The Human Body”, posted on August 12, 2013, I stated that whether the claims about links to serious health issues are true or not, it is that “unknown” factor that worries me most.

Although there have been research studies into what is considered safe and what is not, the results often do not lead to clear-cut answers. Many chemicals in use in personal care products simply lack enough quality data for us to really understand how safe or risky they may be. 

The controversy over chemical testing of suspected cancer-causing ingredients in our food and body products will continue, but in the meantime, I will opt for natural and organic products for me and my family.