Posted by: Ticktock | March 14, 2009

Toxins in the News: Carcinogenic Baby Soaps?

I don’t want my kid swimming in a tub filled with carcinogens any more than the next parent, which is why it is really scary to read the report from the advocacy group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  They tested for two common toxins (formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane) in shampoos, soaps, lotions, and other bathroom products for babies.  The results of the test are pretty scary.

1,4 Dioxane, an actual carcinogen, does not belong anywhere near my children.  My kids don’t go around drinking shampoo, but they do sometimes playfully drink the bathwater.  According to the CSC, 1,4 Dioxane is an easily preventable toxin, and it’s completely banned in several countries.  Whether this report was responsible (and I’ll get to why it might not be), I wonder why our government has been so stubbornly slow about keeping toxins out of toys and baby products.  Please, get with the program, Uncle Sam.

As for this report, I have my doubts that it was conducted fairly.  For instance, the report should have stated that every single tested product was determined to have safe levels of formaldehyde.  It’s been determined that any exposure below 2,000 parts per million are not harmful.  If you look at the details of the report, there weren’t any products that tested greater than 650 ppm, and most were far less than that.  In my opinion, it shows that the products are safe.  Don’t get me wrong – I would certainly be happy if formaldehyde was completely removed from baby soaps, but not at the expense of some other danger such as mold or bacteria.  The soap companies explain that the trace level of toxins are an unfortunate result of other ingredients that are meant to make the products more gentle and free of bacteria.

Another red flag is that the testing does not seem to be uniform.  Some products were tested for both toxins, and some for only one.  Many of the products were only tested once, which indicates a failure to control for anomalies.  Even more disconcerting, the original research is not available to be peer reviewed, as far as I know.

In addition, the CSC report has raised a red flag with me because they insist that all of the products, even the ones that tested negative for both toxins, are still dangerous.  It seems a little unfair to test various products for two known toxins, but then insist that parents ignore the products that tested negative.  This tells me that the organization had an unfair agenda and created a test that was impossible to pass.

I guess I’m on the fence about this.  I could really use some reinforcements from my readers who might be chemists.  Anybody have informed arguments against this report, or am I justified in being concerned, yet skeptical?

I’ve sent some questions to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that address some of the questions I brought up here.  Check back for updates.

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Responses

  1. There is something fishy about the study. I’m not going to change my lifestyle based on just this.

  2. I agree with your conclusion regarding Formaldehyde. The levels aren’t anywhere near as close to the 2000 ppm threshold to be considered harmful.

    The 1,4 Dioxane issue is a bit more convoluted, but I also don’t think its an issue from my reading. Here is the EPA estimates:

    http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0326.htm

    The EPA guidelines are based on studies measuring cancer incidence of rodents exposed to 1,4 dioxane. From this the EPA has extrapolated the results to come up with an exposure limit for humans, which can get pretty dicey. More recent reviews of the data but a couple of groups have concluded that the EPA guidelines are overestimating the cancer risk from 1,4 dioxane exposure.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2392805?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14550759?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=4&log$=relatedreviews&logdbfrom=pubmed

    The one study concludes that continuous exposure of 20000-120000 ppb of 1,4 Dioxane in water is unlikely to lead to an increase in tumor/cancer frequency. Of that list, only one product falls in this range (American Girl Real Beauty Inside and Out Shower Gel – Sunny Orange at 35ppm (35000ppb)). Every other product came in at roughly 10 fold lower levels. Also, this is continuous exposure…I wouldn’t consider bathing as a continuous exposure.

    Based on this, I’m not sure if the 1,4 Dioxane levels in these products is anything to worry about.

    Hope this helps…interesting post!


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