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CEH Files Suit Citing Cancer-Causing Chemical in Nearly 100 Hair Care, Personal Care Products

Image credit: Her Dog Blog

On Tuesday, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) revealed independent testing finding a cancer-causing chemical in 98 shampoos, soaps and other personal care products sold by major national retailers. The chemical, cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), a chemically modified form of coconut oil used as a thickener or foaming agent in many products, was listed by California as a known carcinogen last year. Products tested with high levels of cocamide DEA include shampoos made by Colgate Palmolive, Colomer, Paul Mitchell and many others. In addition, products marketed for children and a product falsely labeled as organic were found with the chemical, in violation of California law.

CEH has filed a lawsuit in California against four companies that sell products containing cocamide DEA, and the nonprofit has sent legal notices to more than 100 other companies that produce and/or sell cocamide DEA-tainted products that their products violate state law. “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,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health.”

In addition to many brand name shampoos and personal care products (see the full list here), the CEH testing found cocamide DEA in store-brand products purchased at Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Pharmaca and Kohl’s. A store brand children’s bubble bath from Kmart and a children’s shampoo/conditioner from Babies R Us were also found with cocamide DEA. Falsely labeled organic products from Organic by Africa’s Best also tested for high levels of the chemical; CEH previously won a legal settlement with this company requiring it to end its use of phony organic labels.

CEH has purchased the shampoos and other products containing cocamide DEA at Bay Area locations of major retailers and from online retailers since June and commissioned an independent lab to determine the total content of the chemical in the products. In many cases, products contain more than 10,000 ppm cocamide DEA, and one shampoo tested at more than 200,000 ppm (20%). California listed the chemical in June 2012 as one known to cause cancer based on the assessment by The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which evaluated skin exposure tests on animals.  

The Center for Environmental Health has a seventeen-year track record of protecting children and families from harmful chemicals in air, water, food and dozens of everyday products. Last month, the nonprofit released a report that revealed the presence of high levels of carcinogenic caramel coloring in Pepsi products purchased in 10 different states, more than a year after the company pledged to remove them.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor of Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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