Ingredients Glossary: 1,4-dioxane

2 June 2014

 What Is It? 

1,4-dioxane is not a direct ingredient or chemical, in fact it is actually a by-product, the result of processing other chemicals. In this case 1,4-dioxane is a petrochemical by product of the petrochemical process of ethoxylation. 

 Where Does It Come From? 

1,4-dioxane is derived from petroleum and as said above it is a by-product, the result of a chemical process call ethoxylation which is used to change chemicals into milder forms (such as with SLS which is turned into SLES through ethoxylation) this process creates bi-products that can be just as harmful as the original chemical and this is where 1,4-dioxane is 'created'. It isn't created deliberately or even used particularly as a direct ingredient, but anything that has gone through ethoxylation will produce 1,4-dioxane and other chemicals as a result of the process. 

 Where To Check For It: 

Even natural and organic products may contain 1,4-dioxane.

As 1,4-dioxane is not a direct ingredient or chemical, rather a by-product, it wont actually ever be labelled directly or even appear on any labels at all.

1,4-dioxane can be found in a huge variety and range of products anything from hair dyes and shampoos, body wash and creams, face creams and lotions, self tan and bath products and critically baby care products.

As it is a by product of ethoxylation any product that has ingredients or chemicals that have been put through this process may contain 1,4-dioxane. It is used to create better chemical surfactants with foaming, sudsing qualities so check for products that claim to be foaming. It is also used to make a strong chemical/product more gentle so check products claiming to be mild, gentle or for sensitive skin. Most famously it is found in 'gentle' baby care products!

And of course as its a by product of chemicals that have gone through the ethoxylation, you'll need to know which chemicals have been through it to look out for...

 Ingredients To Check For, That May Indicate The Presence of 1,4-dioxane: 

 Look for these other chemicals and ingredients that may have been through ethoxylation and therefore may indicate the presence of 1,4-dioxane:
  • SLES
  • ALS
  • PEG
  • Polyoxyethylene
  • Polyethylene
  • Polyethylene Glycol
Furthermore check for ingredients that include these clauses within their name:
  • 'oleth'
  • 'eth'
  • 'oxynol' / 'xynol'
  • 'ceteareth'
(For example: SLES - sodium laureth sulphate)

 Why You May Want To Avoid It: 

The EWG report that the U.S EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) consider 1,4-dioxane as a  known carcinogen in animals and a probable carcinogen for humans (we are essentially animals so I'd say that it seems a little more than 'probable'). Need i say more? It has a very high risk factor and in animals studies has been found to cause cancers and tumours in the liver and can even effect the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. 

Some children even have skin sensitivity to it causing rashes. It is easily absorbed through our skin and this is enhanced by warm water which opens the pores and leads it being more readably absorbed into the blood stream, so it is even riskier in bath products or face washes.

Furthermore, it can also be released as a gas which is inhaled (again this can be exasperated by warm conditions)

 On The Brighter Side: 

While in the US the presence of 1,4-dioxane is not regulated (yet) the USDA National Organic Program bans any ethoxylation processes for products that are certified or produced under their certification. Therefore the risk of 1,4-dioxane in any products produced or certified by USDA should be markedly lower. But remember the certification must apply to the product as a whole and not just to one or more of the ingredients used.

The EU has a ban on any personal care products that contain 1,4-dioxane and bans the use of it in any personal care products.

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