Most natural and organic shoppers are aware that there are toxic synthetic chemicals in conventional products. That's why we pay the extra money and often go out of our way to shop at natural food stores. But, what if you can't trust that the "greener" products are truly safer and healthier?

A recent study commissioned by the Organic Consumer's Association, overseen by David Steinman (author of the Safe Shopper's Bible) found that 47 out of 100 "organic" and "natural" products (personal care and cleaning products) tested contained the undisclosed carcinogenic contaminant, 1,4-dioxane. And, what's worse, some of these products are designed specifically for babies and young children. None of the products certified organic by the USDA contained the contaminant, just some of the self-proclaimed organic and natural ones.

So, what is 1,4-dioxane and why should you care?

In order to make harsh chemicals milder cheaply, some companies use the cancer-causing petrochemical, ethylene oxide, which generates 1,4-dioxane as a by-product. The State of California, under Proposition 65, considers 1,4-dioxane to cause cancer. According to the California EPA, it's also a suspected kidney and respiratory toxicant, and neurotoxicant. But, guess what? You won't see 1,4-dioxane listed on the ingredient label. That's because it's considered a "by-product" of the ethoxylation process, or a "contaminant", not an ingredient intentionally added.

The Organic Consumers Association study found this toxin present in products with synthetic ethoxylated ingredients, including those with ingredients with these letters in their name: myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, any other "eth"; and PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, or oxynol, in their names. The really annoying thing about this is that these chemicals are in products marketed as "natural" and "organic". Talk about greenwashing (trying to promote your product as "green" and charging extra money for it, but it's barely better than supermarket brands). USDA organic certification doesn't allow ethoxylation or any other synthetic petroleum products, which is why 1,4-dioxane isn't in those truly organic products.

What were some of the products that had 1,4-dioxane in them?

Seventh Generation's Lemongrass & Clementine Zest Natural Dish Liquid; several Method products (which are NOT natural products), Kiss My Face's Moisture Soap and Early To Bed Shower Gel and Foaming Bath; Jason, Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Rainbow Soap for Kids, Shikai shower gel, several Giovanni products, Earth Friendly Products Ultra Dishmate (the almond and regular, and the amounts were rather large), several 365 Every Day Value Brand products (the shower gel was the worst), Alba Passion Fruit Body Wash, Aura Cacia Natural Aromatherapy Bubble bath, a couple of Healthy Times baby bath products, a couple of Nature's Gate shampoos, Sea-Chi Organics Tasmanian Lavender Shampoo. To see a complete list, go to: http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/DioxaneResults08.cfm

Luckily, the brands that I sell on this webstore, www.greenlivingnow.com did not contain 1,4-dioxane. Perhaps that's because I favor certified organic products, and natural products like Aubrey Organics (which in addition to being plant based, most of those natural ingredients are certified organic, often 75% or more).

What's the difference between "natural" and "organic"?

My understanding is that "organic", if it's "certified", means that the ingredients were grown or produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Just like certified organic food. "Natural" on the other hand, though it may be from plant or animal sources, may contain synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and may be minimally synthesized. Sadly there aren't any standards that govern the words "natural" and "organic" for personal care products. See a previous article I wrote about "organic" shampoo (http://greenlivingnow.com/column/column.htm).

It's really difficult for consumers to know which products are safer and healthier and which are masquerading as green products. The whole reason that I started researching organic and natural products over 15 years ago was because I was so annoyed that many of the "natural" and "organic" brands sold in health food stores contained a lot of the same toxic synthetic chemicals as the supermarket brands. I was pregnant back then and was looking for products that really were what they said they were. Not an easy thing to determine. (Okay, here comes a sales pitch, sorry…) That's why if you shop here at www.greenlivingnow.com, you'll get the benefit of my research and experience. You won't have to spend all of the time and money researching and using products yourself. I love finding new products to add to the site that meet my strict criteria. You might be surprised to know that some of the products that I try that have excellent certified organic ingredients just don't make the cut because they don't work as well as the others on my site, are too expensive, are made outside of the U.S., or don't smell good to me.

Sources:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=726331
http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-food/organic-food-basics/difference-...

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-fi-natural14mar14,1,3735606.story

http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/DioxaneResults08.cfm

Author's Bio: 

Amy has been a recognized green living expert and pioneer in this area for 15 years. She's a featured expert on the Ecomall.com and former NPR radio host, Laurie Howell's thegreenscene.com.

Amy is also a professional life/health coach. For many years she's been the "go to" person for friends and family, helping them reach their goals and resolve issues more quickly, easily and with more fun. She's a catalyst for change who also walks the talk in her own life.