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Do Some Organic Products Too Cause Cancer?
By Themedica on April 24, 2008 9:27 AM |
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A recent study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has found that some leading "organic" and "natural" brand personal care products, shampoos, body washes, lotions that are not USDA certified, comprise the carcinogenic compound, 1,4-dioxane.

While it's true that dioxane is commonly used in conventionally produced personal care products, the USDA National Organic Program disallows the use of Dioxane in natural personal care products seeking certification by the USDA. A reputed third-party laboratory had performed the testing on the products.

The Wrath Of Cancer

In 2005, 7.6 million people died of cancer worldwide. According to WHO projections, mortality due to cancer would continue to rise with about 9 million people dying of the disease cancer in 2015.


The overall incidence of cancer in the economically sound U.S. too has increased and today it affects 1.3 million with about 550,000 succumbing to the disease each year around the country. Despite the sorry estimates many deaths due to cancer are avoidable. About 40% of all cancers are preventable while others are treatable and curable with modern day cancer medicines if detected early.

Why is Dioxane Harmful?

Dioxane is a clear, colorless heterocyclic organic compound, which is a liquid at room temperature and pressure. It's a compound with a weak smell and is harmful because of the following reasons.

It's A Known Carcinogen: Dioxane has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 2B carcinogen and is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans, as it is a known carcinogen in animals. The cancer drugs by themselves are known to have side effects, but they are still the remedies unlike carcinogens that cause the disease.


It's A Known Toxin: The chemical is an eye and respiratory tract irritant and is also suspected of damaging the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Reportedly, accidental worker exposure to dioxane has resulted in several deaths.


It's An Environmental Pollutant: When released in to the environment, dioxane forms contamination plumes in groundwater. Due to this fact groundwater supplies in several areas have been adversely affected.

It's Non-biodegradable: The compound is highly soluble in groundwater and does not readily bind to soils. What's worse is that it's resistant to naturally occurring biodegradation processes.

How Does It Contaminate Personal Care Products?

Dioxane becomes a part of these so-called "organic" products when companies make use of Ethoxylation, an inexpensive alternative to soften harsh ingredients. This cancer-causing petrochemical Ethylene Oxide when utilized in the manufacture process generates Dioxane as a by-product.


Dioxane Resurrected: This is not the first time that the carcinogenic compound dioxane has been found to figure in personal care products. A previous study revealed that it was a constituent of children's bath products, women's shampoos and body wash. Last year reported that the contaminant was found in several popular brands.

Prevent Yourself from Being Exposed


  • Remember that simply because a personal care product manufacturer has labeled a product with the words "organic" or "certified organic," doesn't necessarily mean that it meets any specified organic standards.
  • If you reside in the US, you need to look for products that are certified under the USDA National Organic Program with the "organic seal."
  • In the European Union the chemical has already been banned from use in cosmetics.
  • Further, many products that are not completely made from "natural" or "organic" ingredients try to disguise themselves by calling themselves differently.
A Thumb Rule For Distinction: The ones carrying the label "100% organic" should have been composed of all organic ingredients. Those that carry the label "organic" may have been produced from 95% or a higher percentage of natural ingredients. The ones made from about 70% or so organic ingredients may call themselves as "made from natural ingredients" or a variant of the claim.
  • In General, your are better off avoiding products with difficult to pronounce ingredients so as to ensure avoiding synthetic toxins and carcinogens.


This recent study has exposed the usage of carcinogens behind the facade of "organic" and "natural" products and it further underscores the need for consumers to exercise caution, prudence and above all the need to stay informed.


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