Disodium EDTA is in many products as a preservative, to stabilise it, or to enhance the foaming action. It’s also used as a chelating agent, which means it us used to precipitate out metals from the formulation (if tap water were used to make the formulation instead purified water, for example, and it can bind with metals dissolved in your shower water).
One reason we recommend to NOT use products containing Disodium EDTA, is because it is a ‘penetration enhancer’. Although it doesn’t absorb particularly well into the skin, it disrupts the surface of skin cells so that other chemicals can get in more easily – ie other chemicals in your product, and chemicals in your shower water, etc.
So if you see Disodium EDTA, then look at what else is in the ingredients list, because you might not be too thrilled at those chemicals getting a free ride.
For example, here are the ingredients for a hand balm from a ‘natural’ brand:
Water, Glycerin, Prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, Stearic Acid, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Cocos nuciferus (coconut) oil, Macadamia ternifolia seed oil, d-limonene, Citrus nobilis (mandarin orange) peel oil, Glyceryl stearate, Cerus Atlantica (cedarwood) bark oil, Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, Tocopherol, Aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, Theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter, Citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) oil, Phenoxyethanol, Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, Citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract, Triticum vulgare (wheat) germ oil, Glycine soja (soybean) oil, linalool, Disodium EDTA, Daucus carota sativa (carrot) root extract, Betacarotene.
Have a think about whether or not you’d like the surface of your skin cells disrupted to allow these chemicals to get in more easily…
The ethoxylated chemical Ceteareth-20. I wrote recently about ethoxylation – so ICYMI, I will add extra information at the end of this post. Suffice to say now, that the process introduces problematic chemicals to personal care products, in particular Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethylene Oxide scores 10 on a scale of 1-to-10 of hazardous chemicals. It’s carcinogenic, shown to induce tumours in mammary glands. It’s also linked with developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity and allergies. 1,4-dioxane is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects. Readily penetrating the skin, it is a known carcinogen with evidence suggesting a possible link to breast cancer. While pregnant women, infants and teenagers are considered to be most vulnerable, it’s more than reasonable to suggest this is a chemical best avoided more widely.
The preservative phenoxyethanol, which is a known irritant for skin, eyes and lungs. In the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has warned that phenoxyethanol can cause shut down of the central nervous system, vomiting and contact dermatitis. There are several animal studies that demonstrate that it is toxic – with effects on the brain and the nervous system – at moderate concentrations. In Japan, there is a concentration limit for its use in cosmetics. The European Union classifies it as an irritant and there are various studies (on rabbit skin, for example) that demonstrate reactions at low doses. Although presumably not regarded as bad enough to be banned outright, toxicity concerns are sufficient for the EU to flag phenoxyethanol as a chemical to avoid getting on your lips or around your mouth.
On balance, you don’t want these in your products (or on your body, or in the waterways or elsewhere in our environment). You definitely don’t want these chemicals in your product WITH Disodium EDTA to help them get in more easily.
So choose products without them. Like Y natural. Simples!
PS… Here’s the ICYMI bit!
To avoid ethoxylated chemicals, avoid the following:
– chemicals with ‘eth’ in their name eg ceteareth, oleth, laureth, deceth, ceteth etc;
– chemicals with PEG or PPG in their name (or written in full as polyethylene glycol, polypropylene glycol);
– chemicals with any of the following as part of their name: oxynal, polysorbate; and
– most ‘emulsifying wax’ or ‘vegetable wax’ is ethoxylated too (though there are rare exceptions).
There are others as well, but those are the most common.
Not all ethoxylated chemicals are particularly harmful per se. Some are. Some might be. Some aren’t. However the way they’re made mean that they can introduce impurities of chemicals that are *definitely* a great concern, in particular: Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Note that you will not see the name of either of these chemicals on a product list. The traces of Ethylene Oxide are there as leftovers from it being combined with other chemicals (including some nice ingredients like fatty acids from coconut or almonds) in a process called ethoxylation. The 1,4-dioxane is produced as a by-product of the ethoxylation process.
BTW the concentration of the contaminants is low – typically measured in parts per million or parts per billion. However, if you’re thinking that such a small amount won’t matter, consider this: in a Viagra pill the concentration of the active is about 30 parts per billion. And the active ingredient in the Pill (Nuvaring, which causes your body to think it’s pregnant and stop your menstrual cycle) is 0.035 parts per billion. So those contaminants might be up to a thousand times more concentrated than medications that have significant health implications. Our view is that there’s simply no reason to even think about those