Many natural personal care products contain residues of the chemical 1,4-dioxane, according to recent tests performed by the Organic Consumers Association. Some of the products that tested positive were from well-known natural brands such as Jason, Alba Botanica and Giovanni.
In cosmetics, dioxane is the byproduct of a chemical process used to soften harsh ingredients, according to the OCA. Although the product is banned from use in cosmetics in the European Union, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that the levels of dioxane found in cosmetics does not pose a hazard to consumers.
But the National Toxicology Agency says that the presence of 1,4- dioxane, even as a trace contaminant, is cause for concern, according to the OCA. The Finland, Minn.-based nonprofit says that any level of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics is potentially dangerous and should not be present in personal care products, especially those available in natural products stores.
Gay Timmons, chairwoman for Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards, concurs that dioxane is potentially dangerous, but she says that the information from the OCA study is not news. "That many personal care products have one to four molecules of dioxane is standard professional knowledge. You can tell by looking at the ingredients; if ethoxylated ingredients are there, then you've got dioxane," she said.
Timmons would rather see the OCA focus the spotlight on how to remove dioxane from products and still have them meet consumer expectations. "If you've been making a product that 2 million people love and you change it quickly, you can go out of business. It takes a long time to reformulate a product," she said. OASIS has proposed standards that will require products to be dioxane-free to carry its seal, so this issue is already on the table, Timmons said.
In light of OCA's research, many of the natural manufacturers implicated in the study are conducting their own tests, and they pledge to reformulate if dioxane is found.
"Kiss My Face is committed to creating products using safe, healthy ingredients and production methods," said Bob MacLeod, cofounder and president of the Gardiner, N.Y.-based company. "To that end, we are reviewing our formulations and running our own tests to ensure that they contain no detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane. We are doing this voluntarily as part of our never-ending commitment to offering only the highest quality and safest products possible."
Chatsworth, Calif.-based Nature's Gate said the company was not aware that its products contained harmful levels of dioxane and is currently reviewing the OCA findings.
"Nature's Gate is committed to manufacturing safe and effective personal care products and would never knowingly include ingredients that are proven to cause human harm," said Paddy Spence, president.
Â Spence also questioned the OCA's stance that any level of dioxane poses health risks. "The FDA has reviewed levels of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics and concluded that they do not present a hazard to consumers. Based on the information from the study conducted by the OCA, we are reviewing all Nature's Gate Organics formulasÂ to ensure their continued compliance with the best available scientific information and theÂ interests of our customers."
Not all of the OCA's finding were negative, though: Virtually all of the personal care products that are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Germany's certifying groups were free from dioxane. "Among brands testing free from this contamination include Aubrey Organics, Dr. Bronner, Hauschka, Terressentials and Nourish," said David Steinman, an environmental health consumer advocate who works closely with the OCA.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 5/p. 11