I started Beauty Heroes to help others discover healthy beauty brands, and I love talking about the all the good stuff in our products, the Superpowers. It’s much easier and more fun to explore the benefits of wholesome, high quality, sustainably sourced ingredients. It’s been a career-long, continuing education to try to make sense of the potentially harmful ingredients that can be found in our skin, body and hair care products. Widespread studies are sparse, and I find myself reading conflicting reports from chemists, regulators and of course ingredient manufacturers. Because there is so much confusion and so little transparency, Beauty Heroes established a strict Ingredient Standard, outlining all of the toxic beauty ingredients we ban. We’re happy to say that this list includes the most common ethoxylated ingredients in cosmetics, skincare, hair care and body care products, a class of ingredients that is more dubious than most.
When it comes to ingredients to be concerned with, this class is top of this list because of their potential to be contaminated with 1,4, Dioxane, a carcinogen and nerve toxin. It’s listed as one of the ingredients known to cause cancer under California’s Prop 65. 1,4 Dioxane is a solvent and stabilizer that is used in all kinds of products such as adhesives, inks, nail polish and more. Why would this ingredient every appear in a skincare product? The answer is that while it may not be added to a formulation, 1,4 Dioxane is a by-product the process of ethoxylation – the adding of ethylene oxide (sometimes many times over) and a catalyst to fatty alcohols resulting in a surfactant with foaming, cleansing or solvent properties. Ethoxylated surfactants are found in laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, skincare products, toothpaste, body washes, bubble baths and very commonly in hair care products.
When it comes to hair care products, like shampoo and conditioner, it is especially hard to find formulas that are free from ethoxylates because they do a really great job of foaming up, stripping oil and giving you that super-clean feeling. In the meantime, they may be lined with 1,4 Dioxane that washes over your hair and body, several times a week.
One well known surfactant that is commonly found in hair products is Sodium Laureth Sulfate, but there are many others. In lieu of ethoxylated ingredients, clean hair care formulas will use saponified coconut oil and other, milder surfactants and fatty acids that may be more expensive and harder to formulate with, but safer to use.
But how do you know if an ingredient is ethoxylated? It’s not an easy answer, but here’s a list of the most common ethoxylated ingredients found in skincare, hair care and body care products:
Acrylates/Steareth-20 Itaconate Copolymer
Ammonium Capryleth Sulfate
Ammonium Pareth-25 Sulfate
Ammonium Myreth Sulfate
Disteareth-75 IPDI, -100 IPDI
Emulsifying Wax NF
Steareth – 2, -4, 10, 16, -20, 21
Isosteareth -2, -10, -20
Magnesium Laureth Sulfate
Magnesium Oleth Sulfate
PEG’s – ingredients listed as a polyethylene glycol or with a PEG- prefix such as PEG-20, PEG 40 etc.
Polysorbate-20, -40, -60, -80
Steareth-2, -4, -10, -16, -20, -21
Sodium Coceth Sulfate
Sodium Deceth Sulfate
Sodium Oleth Sulfate
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium Myreth Sulfate
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate
Zinc Coceth Sulfate
The FDA’s last update on 1,4 Dioxane happened in 2007, making it hard to trust that they are actively following the on-going research on this known carcinogen.
The good news is that there are so many options when it comes to truly healthy beauty, from hair care to makeup and everything in between, there is no sacrificing performance when embracing healthy beauty.