1,4-Dioxane – Are we all going to die?

So there I was a few months back, blissfully washing my hair.  (Yes, I still have some.  There’s not much there, but it is all mine!)  When my attention was brought to an article proclaiming that many name brand organic shampoos contained 1,4-dioxane a listed carcinogenic material.

My first thought was, “Now I know why all my hair is falling out!”

My first thought was incorrect.

So, let’s talk about 1,4-dioxane and what it means to us.

What is 1,4-dioxane?  Looking to the US Department of Health and Human Services, we find that 1,4 dioxane is used as a solvent in processing other materials and is used as a reagent in laboratories.  One use common to our lives is when manufacturers treat vegetable oils with 1,4-dioxane to help them function as a surfactant.  So that’s where it might show up in organic or natural shampoo.

Where is it? You know, it can show up just about anywhere.  It has been found in tap water, in contaminated air, contaminated food, cosmetics and more!

Cosmetics?  Yep.  It can appear as a trace contaminant because of reasons we talked about earlier.

Wait!  You’re a chemist!  I sure am!  And I do believe in better living through modern science, but that doesn’t mean I support all things chemical.  There is an old saying that goes “The dose makes the poison.”  For example, belladonna – a little inflames, a lot kills.  1,4-dioxane – a lot can cause liver and kidney damage, a little, well we just don’t know what happens.

Can I avoid it?  Sure!  If you would like to avoid 1,4-dioxane, avoid all products that have some of the following words: PEG, Polyethylene, Polyethylene Glycol, Polyoxyethylene, -eth or -oxynol-.  Many chemical manufacturers have added a simple cost-effective process that removes any remaining contamination, but there is no way the consumer can know from whom the shampoo guys buy their chemicals.  Call the 800 number or send an email or letter to the maker of your products and ask.  I would answer it.  They should too.

Will it cause cancer?  Tough question.  It does pose a risk in animals but not aquatic ones apparently.   Fish and plants do not seem to accumulate it.  There are no studies or tests done in humans.  Just hasn’t happened.  The risk is rather unknown.

HUH?  What few studies have been done show that there is a generally accepted safe exposure limit of 10 ppm of 1,4-dioxane.  It is listed as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.  That means it hasn’t been proved conclusively, but the likelihood is high. 

Now what do we do?  Well, you can avoid cosmetics that have chemical names like those outlined above, if you live near a hazardous waste dump, don’t drink the water and don’t let your children play near the dump.  Especially after a good rain.  1,4-dioxane is stable in water.  Drink uncontaminated bottled water.

You can ask your doctor to test you for exposure, but he probably won’t have the equipment.  However he can collect the samples from you (urine or blood) and ship them to a lab.  But it has to be quick.  1,4-dioxane and its byproducts leave the human body fairly quickly.  So if you think you have been exposed to high amounts, test within a couple days.

Friend or Foe?  The jury is out on this one.  I will call it personal choice.  I know that my products use uncontaminated surfactants.  But if you aren’t sure, I would recommend that you avoid it.

Questions?  Send me a note!  I will answer, maybe privately but very likely in this column.  Let me know if you need your identity hidden for privacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: