MAJOR COSMETIC AND TOILETRY INGREDIENT POSES AVOIDABLE CANCER RISKS
by Samuel S. Epstein, MD
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) recently found that repeated skin application to mouse skin of diethanolamine (DEA), or its fatty acid derivative, cocamide-DEA, induced liver and kidney cancer. Besides this "clear evidence of carcinogenicity," NTP also emphasized that DEA is readily absorbed through the skin and accumulates in organs, such as the brain, where it induces chronic toxic effects.
High concentrations of DEA-based detergents are commonly used in a wide range of cosmetics and toiletries, including shampoos, hair dyes and conditioners, lotions, creams and bubble baths, besides liquid dish washing and laundry soaps. Lifelong use of these products thus clearly poses major avoidable cancer risks to the great majority of U. S. consumers, particularly infants and young children.
Further increasing these cancer risks is long-standing evidence that DEA readily interacts with nitrite preservatives or contaminants in cosmetics or toiletries to form nitrosodiethanolamine (NDELA), another carcinogen as well, which is recognized by Federal agencies and institutions and the World Health Organization, and which, like DEA, is also rapidly absorbed through the skin. In 1979, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that over 40% of all cosmetic products were contaminated with NDELA and called for industry "to take immediate action to eliminate this carcinogen from cosmetic products." In two 1991 surveys 27 out of 29 products were found to be contaminated with high concentrations of this carcinogen, results which were subsequently confirmed by the FDA. Based on this information, the European Union and European industry have both taken strong action to reduce or eliminate DEA and NDELA from cosmetics and toiletries. In sharp contrast, the FDA has taken no such action, nor has it responded to a 1996 petition from the Cancer Prevention Coalition to phase out the use of DEA or to label DEA-containing products with an explicit cancer warning. The mainstream U. S. industry has been similarly unresponsive, even to the extent of ignoring an explicit warning by the Cosmetics, Toiletries, and Fragrance Association to discontinue uses of DEA. Such reckless intransigence is in strong contrast to the responsiveness of the growing safe cosmetic industry.
Tom Mower, CEO of Neways Inc., a major distributor of carcinogen-free cosmetics, emphasizes: "I see no reason at all to use DEA, as there are safe and cost-effective alternatives, which we have been using in a wide range of our cosmetics and toiletries for the last decade."
Faced with escalating cancer rates, now striking more than one in three Americans, FDA should take immediate action to prevent further exposure to the avoidable carcinogens DEA and NDELA in cosmetics, toiletries, and liquid soaps. Safe and effective alternatives to DEA are readily available.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, Summer 1998, page 4.