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The Dangers of Triethanolamine
Two harsh chemicals don’t make a right. While federal regulations allow small doses of Triethanolamine in beauty and personal care items, they have proved hazardous short term and long term effects ranging from skin and eye irritation, to damaging the respiratory and immune systems and inciting cancer.
What is Triethanolamine?
Triethanolamine, also known as TEA, is a reactionary byproduct of two toxic substances: ethylene oxide and ammonia. Triethanolamine is used for several purposes in a variety of cosmetics and personal care items. Its main purpose is to balance the pH level of products, but it also helps to emulsify ingredients that usually do not blend well. This ensures they spread smoothly on skin and hair and prolongs shelf-life. Additionally, Triethanolamine is a sometimes a foaming agent and adds fragrance to products.
Triethanolamine can be found in up to 40% of beauty items currently on the market. These include perfumes and other fragrances, hair products, hair dyes, shower gel, shaving creams and gels, skin creams and lotions, eye serums, skin cleansers and makeup such as foundations, blushes, mascara, eye shadows and eye liners.
Why is Triethanolamine Dangerous?
Triethanolamine combines two highly toxic chemicals, neither of which would be recommended for skincare use. Despite being used in thousands of personal care and beauty items including many that claim to be hypo-allergenic, Triethanolamine can cause skin, hair and eye irritation and inflammation on a short term and long term basis. Its immediate affects include itchy, watery eyes, dry and brittle hair and itchy skin. Over time, Triethanolamine use can cause chemical damage to skin such as blisters, a hot, burning sensation, hives and flakiness.
Small doses of Triethanolamine are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) for use in cosmetics and personal care products intended for “discontinuous use,” meaning that it should be washed off briefly after application. However, because of its toxicity, the FDA recommends no more than 5% concentration of Triethanolamine in any one product formula because it can be dangerous in large doses or over long-term use.
The problem then rests in the hands of the consumer, who may be absorbing small amounts Triethanolamine into their skin via many common products used daily. The accumulation of small doses of this toxic substance then becomes a large dose. Continual daily exposure over long periods of time may be extremely unhealthy.
In clinical trials done on animals, high doses of Triethanolamine caused liver, bladder and testicular cancer. Similar animal studies showed Triethanolamine can have negative effects on organs, even in low doses, especially when applied around the lips, mouth and eyes. Triethanolamine has also proven to be an immune system and respiratory toxicant, as well as a skin and full body allergen. It may cause genetic mutations in vitro as well.
Additionally, Triethanolamine can be carcinogenic when combined in products with N-nitrosating agents as these may react to form nitrosamines.
Any ingredient that saturates our health and beauty industry but is only safe for limited us is simply unsafe. No one can really know how much Triethanolamine they are absorbing. At Natura Veda, we believe any amount of Triethanolamine is too much. We use natural ingredients to balance the pH of our products, ensure they spread smoothly, foam properly and smell as wonderful as nature intended.