You might not be familiar with “1,4-Dioxane” but it’s a chemical component commonly used in everyday products, such as shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics. It may also cause cancer, which is why a pair of U.S. Senators are urging the Food & Drug Administration to begin the process of eliminating this chemical from consumer products.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a petition to the FDA Thursday calling on the agency to require companies to strip the chemical entirely from shampoos, shower gels, lotions, and other products where it’s currently found.
The items in your bathroom may contain 1,4-dioxane and you wouldn’t necessarily know it, as it’s not an ingredient that it is included for any useful purpose. Rather, explains the FDA, the chemical is a contaminant that may be present in extremely small amounts in some cosmetics. It is formed as a byproduct during the manufacturing process of certain cosmetic ingredients.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists 1,4-dioxane as a “likely carcinogen to humans” by all routes of exposure, and found that short-term exposure can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation.
While the FDA says that research in the 1970s found an association between 1,4-dioxane and cancer in animals when 1,4-dioxane was administered in high levels in the animal feed, the levels in cosmetic products are far lower than those found to be harmful in feeding studies.
Additionally, the types of products in which it is found are only in contact with the skin for a short time, the FDA notes.
According to the FDA, a skin absorption study found that 1,4-dioxane in products used on the skin evaporates readily, further diminishing the small amount in the products.
Despite these findings, Schumer says that the fact these chemicals are found in everyday products is “very disturbing.”
Schumer notes that the chemical has “no purpose in these products.”
“With the technology available to minimize 1,4 -dioxane in toiletries, the FDA should do everything in their power to remove this likely carcinogen from products before those products hit store shelves,” he urged the agency.
In their petition to the FDA, Schumer and Gillibrand claim that allowing the chemical to be present in products could be a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA).
The FDCA forbids the introduction and delivery of adulterated cosmetics into interstate commerce, and classifies cosmetic as “adulterated” if it contains a “deleterious substance” rendering the product “injurious to users.”
The petition makes the case that cosmetics containing 1,4-dioxane should qualify as adulterated.
Schumer and Gillibrand also claim that because the chemical is found in personal care products, it is often washed off and travels through the water system to contaminate lakes and rivers.
The lawmakers pointed to an Environmental Protection Agency survey from Aug. 2016 that looked at 28 public water districts on Long Island and found that Long Island water suppliers exceeded the national average for traces of 1,4-dioxane.
While ridding products of 1,4-dioxane might seem like a tedious task, the lawmakers contend that companies can use a process known as “vacuum stripping” to remove the chemical.
Some larger cosmetics and hair care companies have responded to concerns about 1,4-dioxane. Johnson & Johnson reformulated its signature baby shampoo to rid it of this chemical and formaldehyde, while the company says it has reduced the levels of 1,4-dioxane to below detectable levels in 70% of its products for babies.
Procter & Gamble, which has been pressured to remove the chemical from its detergents and other products, does not provide brand-specific information, but claims it has taken actions to minimize 1,4-dioxane levels. Similarly, Unilever maintains that its dioxane levels in cosmetics and household cleansers are safe.