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A senator is sounding the alarm on an ingredient that’s in 46% of beauty products

1,4-dioxane Pin It
Photo: Stocksy/Alejandro Moreno de Carlos

When microbeads—the tiny plastic balls in exfoliating facial scrubs—were banned from personal care products last year, many women suddenly realized they were rubbing their skin with the same material used to make grocery bags (yuck), which was polluting waterways and living forever in the food chain.

The next ingredient that’s being questioned by lawmakers? It’s called 1,4-dioxane, and it’s commonly found in body washes, hand soaps, lotions, and bath products. It’s also a likely carcinogen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Plus it’s in 46 percent of personal care products—and brands are not even required to list it on the label. How can this even be legal?

It’s actually a byproduct of other chemicals used in cosmetics—which is why it could escape the attention of even the most diligent beauty label reader.

Well, it might not be for long. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York petitioned the Food and Drug Administration today to have the questionable ingredient removed from all personal care products in the US, an important step forward in the clean beauty revolution.

What prompted the move? For starters, a toxic amount of 1,4-dioxane was found in the Long Island, NY, water supply. But 1,4-dioxane was arguably dangerous well before that—it has an EWG (Environmental Working Group) score of 8 (10 being the most toxic) and it is already banned in Canada.

So what exactly is this oddly named ingredient? It’s actually a byproduct of other chemicals used in cosmetics—which is why it can escape the attention of even the most diligent beauty label reader.

“It’s not required to be on an ingredient list,” says Angelo Roefaro, Schumer’s press secretary. In fact, if it’s on the label, you’ll see it lurking under a different name: PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, and polyoxyethylene, according to EWG.

Thankfully, it’s actually easy to remove from products, according to Schumer—in his statement, he notes that “vacuum stripping” is a cost-effective way to remove it from personal care formulations. And he wants to ensure all companies do just that.

Bonus: You can help make that happen. If you’re down for the natural-beauty cause, call your representatives in Congress (you can look them up here) and let them know this is an issue you care about—and get DC on spring-cleaning duty.

If you’re looking to clean up your own beauty routine, these are the 3 most important body-care products to swap first. And here’s how you can start to go natural with your daily beauty routine.