The American nonprofit Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has found a cancer-causing chemical in 98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold by Walmart, Target, Babies R Us, Trader Joe’s, Kohl’s and other national retailers. Their investigation focused on California, but these popular products are found everywhere. For those of us living in Middle East nations with lax environmental, health and safety protections, buyers need especially beware.
“Most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo,” said CEH Executive Director Michael Green. “We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health.”
The chemical cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA) is a modified form of coconut oil used as a foaming agent or thickener. It had been listed as a known carcinogen by the state of California last year. So how’s it still in product formulas?
Last year, a simple housecleaning exercise turned into a health epiphany for my family as we discovered the dangers lurking in everyday beauty products. I was heartened to discover consumer watchdogs like The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) that do the investigative legwork for us: log on (link to website here), enter a product name, and get the lowdown on its chemical purity.
I assumed that incessant bad press for the product manufacturers would incite a rapid clean-up of toxic ingredients. I’m such a pollyanna.
Products with high levels of this chemical include shampoos made by retail giants Colgate Palmolive, Colomer, Paul Mitchell, and others (see the full list, link here). It turned up in kids’ products and in falsely labeled organic items from Africa’s Best. Is nothing safe?
CEH bought the products online and from major retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area. An independent lab tested for chemical content, frequently finding that products contained more than 10,000 ppm cocamide DEA, with one shampoo containing more than 200,000 ppm (that’s 20% of the product mix!), in direct violation of California law.
For seventeen years, CEH has worked to protect the public from harmful chemicals in everyday consumables, working with major industries and green business leaders to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. Last week, they filed a California lawsuit against four of the companies selling the tainted products, and sent legal notices to more than 100 others.
While the work of organizations such as CEH and CSC is important, it remains with each of us to step up as educated consumers and take responsibility for protecting our own health.
Image of a death mask from Shutterstock