- some shampoos and cosmetics
- foods and drinks such fried chicken and tomato juice
Manufacturers are able to minimise the amount of dioxane using a process called vacuum stripping. The amount of dioxane left behind in baby products is very low. A recent study by an environmental group looked at this issue. The levels of 1,4-dioxane they found in baby products were between 0.27 parts and 35 parts per million (ppm).
To work out what this means, it helps to think of it in terms of grains of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool:
- 0.27 parts per million would be about a pinch of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
- 35 parts per million would be less than two teaspoons of sugar.
We do know that 1,4-dioxane has been linked to the following health problems:
- 1,4-dioxane may irritate our eyes, nose, throat and skin if we are exposed to large quantities.
- Studies have shown that when rats drank water containing 1,4-dioxane over a long period of time, they suffered liver and kidney damage.
- Tests on animals have also shown that 1,4-dioxane can cause cancer. These tests suggest that 1,4-dioxane can probably cause cancer in humans too. However, the animals in the studies were exposed to much higher levels of 1,4-dioxane than we are exposed to in our daily lives.
We also don't know how 1,4-dioxane affects the health of babies and children. It is likely that 1,4-dioxane has the same health effects on children as it does on adults, but we do not know this for sure.Why is 1,4-dioxane talked about in the media?In March 2009, a study entitled "No more toxic tub" made headlines in the media. The study was commissioned by an organisation called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC). It was concerned about the ingredients in baby bathing products in the United States.
CSC sent samples of popular products to an independent laboratory for analysis. 67 per cent of the products they tested contained 1,4-dioxane. The levels of 1,4-dioxane found in the products were between 0.27ppm and 35ppm, as explained above (see section, Why is it found in baby shampoo and bath products?).Who regulates it and how?All cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery products marketed in the European Union are regulated by the European Cosmetics Directive. According to its legislation, 1,4-dioxane is not allowed as an added ingredient in cosmetics. However, traces of it that can't be removed during the manufacturing process are acceptable, as long as there is no risk to health.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration monitors levels of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics. It states that the 1,4-dioxane levels found in cosmetics "do not present a hazard to consumers".Should we worry about 1,4-dioxane?The "No more toxic tub" study has understandably caused concern among parents.
Be assured the levels of 1,4-dioxane found in shampoos and bath products were extremely low. The regulatory authorities in both Europe and the United States do not consider them to be a health risk.
It's also worth noting that this research was commissioned by environmental activists. It is not clear what the methods for testing the products were. Also the results have not been reviewed by experts. This doesn't mean that they are wrong, but it does mean we can't be sure that they are right.
Bear in mind that even though 1,4-dioxane shouldn't pose any risk to our health, it is difficult to avoid it anyway. We are potentially exposed to it from a variety of sources. It is found in some foods and in tap water. So we could be exposed to 1,4-dioxane even when we have a bath with no products in.What can we do?The risk to you and your baby from 1,4-dioxane is so small that you do not have to try to steer clear of it. Certainly that is the advice the regulatory authorities give.
If you are concerned about 1,4-dioxane, you'll need to look very carefully at the ingredients labels on the products you buy. As 1,4-dioxane is not an added ingredient it is not listed on product labels. Instead you will need to look for the ingredients that may produce traces of 1,4-dioxane when they are being manufactured.
Some of the commonest ingredients to look out for include:
- polyethylene glycol
- ingredients ending with –eth
- ingredients ending with –oxynol
- ingredient names that contain the word laureth, myreth, ceteareth or oleth.