There was some big news in the cosmetic world when industry giant Procter & Gamble announced that it would be reformulating all of its Herbal Essences shampoos to reduce the level of a known “toxic” chemical.
According to this Cosmetics Design story, P&G made a deal with an environmental activist to reduce the level of 1,4-dioxane in Herbal Essences shampoo to avoid being sued.
Reportedly, the environmental activist group found that Herbal Essences contained 24 parts per million (ppm) of 1,4-dioxane. In California, the compound is allowable up to 10 ppm.
1,4-dioxane is not an ingredient companies put in their formulas on purpose. It is a contaminant that is left over from the process that “ethoxylates” surfactants to make them less harsh. (Like when Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is converted to the less harsh Sodium Laureth Sulfate). For more on the safety of shampoos see the post Mid Brain wrote on “Baby Shampoos Are Safer Than Soup.”)
Is Herbal Essences More Safe?
While 1,4-dioxane is nasty stuff, the levels that it is found in shampoos is not high enough to have an impact on people’s health. The thing that environmental activists always seem to ignore is that it’s not just the toxicity that matters…It’s the DOSE that matters.
All chemicals, including Natural Spring Water, can be toxic or lethal at a high enough exposure level. 24 ppm of 1,4-dioxane has not been shown to have any affect on people (or rats for that matter).
Why did P&G Reformulate?
More than anything, decisions in the cosmetic industry are driven by PR. If something is good PR for the company, they’ll do it. If it’s not, they won’t. Herbal Essences has been struggling to maintain market share and this news that it will be “safer” will certainly help boost sales.
Perhaps a clever ploy by P&G?
Although it disturbs me that they have to resort to this kind of fear marketing. It simply serves to make people more suspicious and fearful of perfectly fine cosmetic and beauty products.
But at least it keeps us cosmetic chemists employed.
It does make me wonder however…Why aren’t they reformulating Pantene or Head and Shoulders? They use the same basic surfactants and would certainly have the same level of 1,4-Dioxane?