Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and hair-care specialist at Aviva, said that cocamide diethanolamine (or cocamide DEA) is a relatively common foaming or thickening agent used in cleansing products. “Cocamide DEA is used as an emulsifying agent to make products ‘creamy’ and is made by reacting the mixture of fatty acids from coconut oils with diethanolamine,” Robinson explains. “DEA is an allergen that, in small doses, can create mild forms of dermatitis in individuals who are susceptible to skin allergies — but high doses of this chemical have been linked to potentially being carcinogenic to humans.”
But, did you know that, while pure coconut oil is still a-okay to use for skin care, cooking, and the like, SFGate reported recently that a chemically modified form of coconut oil found in personal-care products (from shampoo to body wash to hair color) is a known carcinogen.
According to a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a high dose is constituted would be 10 000 parts per million (ppm) of cocamide DEA in a product, or one milligram per liquid liter.
IARC study tested many products, and they found that many of them contained that dangerous 10 000 ppm of cocamide DEA, the U.S Food and Drug Administration still does not recognize the link between cancer and DEA. The FDA has not updated its public release on diethanolamine since 2006, according to Robinson, even though the National Toxicology Program completed a study in 1998 that found a connection between regular exposure to DEA and cancer in lab animals. (It’s important to note that the NTP did not show this link with humans.)
Avoid a product if any of these appear in its ingredients list:
DEA oleth-3 phosphate
Robinson provided this list of all of the names that cocamide DEA masquerades under. Regardless, California recognized DEA as a known carcinogen in 2012, and the Oakland, CA, branch of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has finally, as of May 5, reached the first-ever legal agreements with 26 companies to end the CEH, more than 100 other companies have yet to agree to remove the substance from their wares.
For those who are worried that cocamide DEA might be replacing sulfates as the foaming agent in your sulfate-free products, hold tight. While coconut derivatives are mostly used as a replacement for sulfates in some cosmetic products, Robinson assures that cocamide DEA is not regulary used as a replacement for this chemical, as the two substances are used for two different purposes.
But, if you already replaced most of your beauty routine with pure coconut oil, you are actually on to something. This saga with cocamide DEA is a reminder that, no matter how many claims a product makes that it is “all natural” or free of sulfates or other harmful chemicals, that doesn’t mean that it’s truly safe. The only way to really know what do these products contain is to study up the ingredients lists or use an app like “Think Dirty” that does the research for you.