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As we now continue with our controversial chemicals in cosmetics articles, we will do this with a probing of tetrasodium EDTA. The EDTA stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. The chemical is a preservative which is used in cosmetics and personal care products, to stop the growth of mould and microorganisms, prevent rancidity and to protect fragrance compounds. Tetrasodium EDTA is water-soluble and has chelating abilities and it can bind to certain mineral ions and inactivate them. As well as finding the chemical being used in a range of products from shampoo and conditioners, to hair dyes and hair bleaches, it has been cleared to be used in packaged foods, baby foods and vitamin supplements.

Bearing the previous information in mind, we ask for logical thinking to be present as we continue with our erudition….

One of the ingredients used in the creation of EDTA is ethylenediamine formaldehyde. It is reportedly noted by the National Cancer Institute, as a known carcinogen. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have labelled formaldehyde as a ‘probable’ human carcinogen at high exposure levels. Another ingredient combined with ethylenediamine in the production of tetrasodium EDTA is sodium cyanide, a substance made from the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide. There are some out there that argue despite being made from at least one extremely likely carcinogenic ingredient and one known toxin, tetrasodium EDTA is low level risk.

Another disturbing factor about tetrasodium EDTA, is that it is a penetration enhancer. Penetration enhancers break down the skins natural protective barrier and this allows other potentially toxic substances in formulas to get deeper into skin tissue. There is always the potential that penetration could go deep enough to spill into the bloodstream. In the ‘Final report on the safety assessment of EDTA’ (2002) it was stated by Lanigan, R.S. and Yamarik, T.A.:

These chelating agents are cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic, but not carcinogenic. Oral exposures to EDTA produced adverse reproductive and developmental effects in animals. Clinical tests reported no absorption of an EDTA salt through the skin. These ingredients are likely, however, to affect the passage of other chemicals into the skin because they will chelate calcium. Exposure to EDTA in most cosmetic formulations, therefore, would produce systemic exposure levels well below those seen to be toxic in oral dosing studies.

They go on to warn, that due to the potential increased absorption of other chemicals, formulators should be careful when combining ingredients with EDTA. Ingredients which may have previously been determined to be safe, due to not being significantly absorbed, could very well now be unsafe. This is a very disturbing factor which needs real consideration, as the creation of chemical cocktails being labelled natural and organic become more widespread and complex. Individual long-term studies into single synthetic chemicals may be limited, but in larger combinations they are even lesser. The study also clarifies that the if the ingredient is used in an aerosol application, it may cause respiratory illness.

The Cosmetic Safety Database has scored a low 2, in-regards to the ingredient being a hazard and a low overall health hazard. EDTA has not been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Others have raised concern that the ingredient may contain high levels of dioxane, another carcinogenic manufacturing by-product. It is claimed that some sensitive users of creams with tetrasodium EDTA, did indeed develop eczema. It is also known as a potent eye irritant and it is present in some very well advertised eyelash growth serums. If you are considering purchasing an eyelash growth serum, please check the ingredients carefully!

As always, we leave any choice you desire to make up to you. Some will think the risks of this ingredient are not so bad, some will be very concerned. What we would like to highlight above all through this blog, is that these types of ingredients are NOT necessary. There are plenty of ways AND reasons to avoid them. There are some amazing organic cosmetic products out there and the level of creativity we have been coming across, is quite stunning. We ourselves remain firmly in the ‘if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin’ camp. Until next time, keep healthy!


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Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire

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