Cancer-Causing Chemical in Shampoos?

Environmental group sues companies making or selling products containing cocamide DEA

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Take a look at the ingredients in your shampoo. If you can pronounce any of the names or know what they do, you’re probably a chemist. One of those many-syllabled ingredients may cause cancer, and an environmental group wants to get it out of your hair.

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) out of Oakland, California has tested and found a chemical made from coconut oil in nearly 100 shampoos, bubble bath products, hand soaps and other personal care products. 

The chemical compound, which helps make bubbles and thickens liquids, is cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA). In California, the substance is considered to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on animal studies.

Given this discovery, CEH is filing suit against four retailers that carry products containing cocamide DEA and sent letters to other companies.

"Investigate which cosmetic chemicals to avoid."

In June 2012, cocamide DEA was listed as a cancer-causing agent under the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.

This listing was based on a monograph by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which concluded, “There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of coconut oil diethanolamine condensate.”

The agency wrote in its overall evaluation, “Coconut oil diethanolamine condensate is possibly carcinogenic to humans."

The IARC document indicates that in terms of evaluating the chemical as a human carcinogenic, “No human data were available to the Working Group.”

CEH took legal action after an independent lab tested products containing cocamide DEA purchased from major retailers such as Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's, Kohl’s, Kmart and online outlets during the month of June.

Of concern were 98 products made by major manufacturers including Colgate Palmolive, Paul Mitchell, American Crew and others.

Among the products were baby shampoo, a children's shampoo/conditioner, a children's bubble bath and several products labeled as “organic.”

The nonprofit organization found high levels of the compound in these products — 100,000 to 200,000 parts per million. No safe limits have been established for the chemical.

“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,” Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH said in a press release.

In addition to the four retailers sued, the group sent legal notices to more than 100 other companies that produce and/or sell products containing cocamide DEA alerting them that the ingredient was in violation of California law.

“We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health,” Green said.

Review Date: 
September 3, 2013
Last Updated:
September 3, 2013