Is It Safe? Cocamide DEA Discovered In 98 Personal Care Products

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Cocamide DEA Discovered In 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.

 Cocoamide DEA say "derived from" coconuts in order to give the appearance that it is a natural ingredientAnd 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 THOSE “studies” were also done on animals. This a clear case of wanting to “have your cake and eating it too?


What Is Cocoamide DEA

Cocamide DEA is made by reacting a chemical called diethanalomine (DEA) with fatty acids from coconut oils to create a diethanalomide, a thick, clear liquid.

Cocamide DEA is often listed with the words "derived from" coconuts in order to give the appearance that it is a natural ingredient. While it is true that cocamide DEA starts off using the fatty oils from coconuts, that is the only thing natural about it. It is then highly refined and processed.

Cocamide DEA is a foaming agent, emulsifier, or thickener. Manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products use the thick liquid to boost lather and add a thick creamy texture to liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths, exfoliants, and cosmetics. It is also used in some pet-care and household-cleaning products.


Potential Problems With Cocamide DEA

Research has shown Cocamide DEA to be a skin irritant and sensitizer. As a result, in small doses it can cause an allergic dermatitis in some people. Large doses, however, are potentially carcinogenic to humans.

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

Other names for Cocamide DEA in skin care productsIn February 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed Cocamide DEA 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.

Although it has been labeled as a potentially carcinogenic and is banned by the State of California, the FDA does not regulate Cocamide DEA. Some products may have much higher DEA levels than others, but the specific levels of DEA are not listed on the ingredients list.

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 replace cocamide DEA with other similar foaming agents that still contain DEA or cocamide or its relatives like MEA (monoethanolamine).

If you are concerned about the potential risks of DEA, it is a good idea to be familiar with the names of other ingredients that may contain DEA.

On the basis of the animal and clinical data presented in some studies, researchers concluded that Cocamide DEA is safe at concentrations 10% when used in leave-on cosmetic products.

While that may be true, have their been any studies about the longterm use and the effects of cocoamide DEA or its relatives?

According to an article titled "Coconut Oil Diethanolamine" from the National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine,

"It has been estimated that 10,300 and 8650 tonnes of coconut oil diethanolamine condensate were produced in the United States of America in 1977 and 1985, respectively."

"In 1985, coconut oil diethanolamine condensate was reported to be present in nearly 600 cosmetic formulations of bath oil, shampoo, conditioner, lipstick and hair dye. The concentration of diethanolamide in these preparations ranged from 1 to 25%."

So, do we know what happens after 40 years of "safe" use?

Unfortunately, there are manufacturers that include DEA in their products and still label their products as “natural” or “organic.”


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.

This 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."

As 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 for 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.


As I continue to say, 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.



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