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Cancer-Causing Chemical in Shampoos Subject of Ground-Breaking Legal Agreement

Health + Wellness

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced today it has reached first-ever legal agreements with 26 major companies to discontinue using the cancer-causing chemical cocamide DEA in shampoo and personal care products.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In August 2013, CEH brought lawsuits against companies selling products in California that contain cocamide DEA without a health warning, as required under Prop 65, the state’s consumer protection law for toxic chemicals. In June 2012, the stated listed the chemical as a known carcinogen based on the assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which evaluated skin exposure tests on animals. Cocamide DEA is a synthetic chemical created from a chemical reaction between coconut oils and diethanolamine. It has been used for decades in shampoos and other products as a foaming agent.

On May 2, CEH legal settlements with 14 companies were finalized in Alameda County Superior Court. Under the agreement, the companies agreed to stop using cocamide DEA in their products. While the litigation is binding only in the state of California, it is expected that the companies will stop selling products containing the chemical nationwide. The 14 companies are:

  • Ampro Industries, Inc.

  • Accessory Zone, LLC

  • Avlon Industries, Inc.

  • Colgate-Palmolive Company

  • House of Cheatham, Inc.

  • Lush Handmade Cosmetics Ltd.

  • McBride Research Labs, Inc.

  • Michel Design Works Ltd.

  • Person & Covey, Inc.

  • Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, Inc.

  • Saks Incorporated

  • Somerset Toiletry Company, Ltd.

  • Todd Christopher International, Inc. dba Vogue International

  • Trans-India Products, Inc. dba Shikai Products

CEH has signed agreements with 12 other companies, which are expected to be approved by the court in June. The 12 companies are:

  • ConvaTec, Inc.

  • Farouk Systems, Inc.

  • Fisk Industries, Inc.

  • Golden Sun, dba Newhall Labs, Inc.

  • Grandall Distributing Co, Inc.

  • Grisi Hnos., S.A. de C.V.

  • Hoyu America Transition Co.

  • Imperial Dax Company, Inc.

  • Mudlark Papers, Inc.

  • Skinfood USA, Inc.

  • Olympic Mountain and Marine Products, Inc.

  • Walgreen Co. and its subsidiary Drugstore.com, Inc.

There are ongoing cases pending against more than 100 other companies

“These legal settlements are a great victory for children’s and families’ health. Simply put, there is no reason why anyone should be lathering a cancer-causing chemical into their hair or their children’s hair,” said CEH Research Director Caroline Cox. “This is also a victory for California’s Prop 65 consumer protection law, which promotes safer products and insures our right to know when common products pose serious health threats.”

Despite these legal settlements, some companies continue to sell unlabeled products containing the carcinogen. In April, CEH bought children’s bubble bath products containing cocamide DEA from Dollar General stores, almost six months after CEH notified Dollar General that it was in violation of California law.

Items containing cocamide DEA that CEH purchased recently from Dollar General. Photo credit: CEH

“It’s absolutely crazy that federal law allows cosmetics companies to use chemicals linked to cancer in shampoos, lotions and makeup,” said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy at the Breast Cancer Fund and director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Kudos to California and the Center for Environmental Health for taking action to get companies to stop using cocamide DEA. Now it’s the job of Congress to give the $71 billion beauty industry the makeover it needs by setting regulations that protect human health.”

In their new report, Safer Suds: Eliminating a Cancer-Causing Chemical in Shampoos and Soaps, CEH and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are urging Congress to adopt federal legislation for safer personal care products—the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013.

The cosmetics industry is virtually self-regulated. Decisions about ingredient safety are left up to the cosmetics industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot require these companies to conduct safety assessments before using chemicals nor can it require product recalls. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013 would require:

  • A phase-out of ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm

  • Creation of a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers and other vulnerable populations

  • Elimination of labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure on product labels and company websites, including salon products and the constituent ingredients of fragrance

  • Worker access to information about unsafe chemicals in personal care products

  • Data-sharing to avoid duplicative testing and encourage the development of alternatives to animal testing

  • Adequate funding so the FDA has the resources it needs to more effectively regulate the cosmetics industry

The two groups recommend the following steps to avoid cocamide DEA in the products you use:

  •  Carefully read labels on your soaps, shampoos and other similar products. Don’t buy products that list cocamide DEA as an ingredient. While companies are removing this chemical from their products, there are still old products on store shelves.

  • Check out the Think Dirty® app to learn more about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products. Don’t buy products that list those ingredients.

  • Tell Dollar General to stop selling products that contain cocamide DEA.

  • Ask your Representative to co-sponsor and support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013. Congress needs to know that this issue is important to consumers

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