Did you shower before work this morning? A study released earlier this week found that this simple act of good hygiene probably increased your chances of developing cancer later in life. The culprit is a sneaky carcinogen that has been found in nearly 100 personal care products sold by major national retailers, including a few that claim to be organic.
According to the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), 98 shampoos, soaps and other products sold by major national retailers tested positive for cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), a chemically-modified form of coconut oil used as a thickener or foaming agent that was declared a known carcinogen by the state of California last year. In many cases, tested products contained more than 10,000 ppm cocamide DEA, and one shampoo tested at more than 200,000 ppm (20%) cocamide DEA.
Colgate, Palmolive, Colomer, Paul Mitchell and many other national brands tested positive for the cancer-causing substance, including those marketed to children. CEH has since filed a California lawsuit against four companies guilty of using the chemical and sent legal notices to more than 100 other companies who are in violation of the law.
“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,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH, in a press release. “We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health.”
National brands are often expected to contain low-quality ingredients because they’re cheap, but even store brands thought to be more upscale–like those from Trader Joe’s, Pharmaca and Kohl’s–contained the contaminant.
Scanning the list of personal care products found to contain cocamide DEA, a pattern emerges. Brands that claim to contain natural sounding ingredients like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, Moroccan Argan oil, ginger and chamomile appear over and over on the list. It’s a warning to consumers: if a product claims to include high quality “organic” ingredients, but only costs a buck or two, you’re probably getting a chemically-altered form of the ingredient.
Moral of the story: if you can’t pronounce it and you wouldn’t feel safe eating it, you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your body at all. After all, the skin is only a temporary barrier. Eventually, everything we apply topically makes it to the blood stream, and over a lifetime of using chemical-laden products, it can add up to nasty health complications.
See here for the full list of the contaminated shampoos, soaps and personal care products, along with retailers. If you don’t see your favorite products on the list, but want to know what they contain, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.
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