CA Recognizes Cancer-Causing Chemical Used in Shampoos


California keeps a list of chemicals known to cause cancer and/or reproductive health problems. State scientists update the list as new studies emerge on chemicals, often chemicals found in common household products.

Last week, California officially identified a chemical known as cocamide DEA as a cancer-causing chemical. What’s cocamide DEA? It sounds like coconut, right?

Cocamide DEA is made by reacting coconut oil with a chemical called ethanolamine. That reaction turns something you might eat into a cancer-causing  chemical that’s used in many shampoos and other personal care products. California’s decision about cocamide DEA was made because this chemical has caused liver and kidney cancers in laboratory tests. Not healthy!

Convinced that it’s not a good idea to be washing your hair with a cancer-causing chemical, CEH did a brief, unscientific survey of the shampoo aisle at a couple of local outlets of national chain drug stores. We found that many shampoos don’t contain cocamide DEA, but there are enough that it’s worth doing a careful check of the fine print on the back of your shampoo bottle.

If you see cocomide DEA in the ingredient list, think about switching to another brand. Some popular brands at the drugstores that had products made with  cocamide DEA were Prell, Organix, BioInfusion, Mane ‘n Tail, and Selsun Blue.

We also noticed that many shampoos contain cocamide MEA instead of the DEA. So far cocamide MEA is not known to be carcinogenic, but as even the cosmetic industry admits, there is a “lack of available safety data on Cocamide MEA.”  It looks to us like another example of what we call the toxic chemical shell game – replacing a toxic chemical with something that may also be toxic but isn’t as well studied. You might want to avoid products that contain cocamide MEA –better safe than sorry!

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