Limited time: 25% off sitewide (sets excluded) Shop now Two free samples with every orderShop now Free standard shipping on all US ordersShop all Free international shipping on orders over $50Shop all
The Unpredictable Chemical Popping Up In Beauty Products

The Unpredictable Chemical Popping Up In Beauty Products

You won’t find 1,4-dioxane on an ingredient label, so how is it ending up in beauty products? Rose Inc. investigates.

Parabens. Synthetic fragrance. Talc. Thanks to an increase in transparency in the beauty industry, reading an ingredient label has become exponentially easier. But just as we’re all getting a better handle on product safety, headlines suggest something unexpected: There could be dangerous chemicals hiding in our favorite formulas—yet totally absent from ingredient labels.

One that’s attracting growing concern with researchers, regulators, and health experts is 1,4-dioxane, a chemical byproduct that forms during the manufacturing process of certain ingredients. But how dangerous is 1,4-dioxane in beauty products? And, better yet, how can you avoid it? Rose Inc. investigates.

1,4-Dioxane: What Is It?

Referred to as “one four dioxane” in conversation, it’s a dangerous chemical found in things like paint strippers and dyes; antifreeze and aircraft de-icing fluids; and in some consumer products like shampoo, deodorant, and cosmetics, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Most consumers haven’t heard of 1,4-dioxane because it’s not an intentionally-added ingredient that would appear on a product label,” explains Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and co-founder of its Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “The chemical is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh.”

For example, a cosmetic chemist may convert sodium lauryl sulfate into its gentler cousin, sodium laureth sulfate, through ethoxylation, which can produce 1,4-dioxane in the final formulation without ever being detected by the consumer. Independent testing of many popular products over the past decade has found troubling levels of the contaminant in things like laundry detergent and shampoo.

“Because manufacturers don’t have to disclose the presence of 1,4-dioxane on product labels, it’s hard for consumers to know if their personal care, or other household products, harbor the hidden carcinogen,”notes Nneka Leiba, MPhil., MPH, vice president of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group.

1,4-Dioxane: The Health Impacts

The EPA lists 1,4-dioxane as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure” and notes that “short-term exposure may cause eye, nose, and throat irritation,” while “long-term exposure may cause kidney and liver damage.”

But personal exposure doesn’t end when a contaminated product is washed down the drain or disposed of by a manufacturer. “Once released into the environment, 1,4-dioxane can move into groundwater which can result in widespread contamination of drinking water supplies,” explains Krystal Pollitt, Ph.D., P.Eng., assistant professor of environmental health science at Yale School of Public Health and co-author of a recent study on the topic. “About 7% of public drinking water supplies in the U.S. exceed the federal health risk guideline...If extrapolated across the U.S., these drinking water levels would expose millions of public water consumers to elevated cancer risk.”

Since 1,4-dioxane is stable in water, meaning it doesn’t break down, it’s often referred to as a ‘forever chemical’, which means that once it gets into a water supply, it’s incredibly difficult and costly to remove.

1,4-Dioxane: How To Avoid It

While it takes more work to remove from your routine than other problematic ingredients in personal care products, it can be done. The easiest way to identify potential 1,4-dioxane exposure from beauty products is to first isolate formulas that create a lot of lather, like shampoo, liquid soap, and sudsy body cleansers or bubble bath. “Look on the label for sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, or chemicals that end with -xynol, -ceteareth, and -oleth, all of which denote the ingredients have been ethoxylated and thus the product could contain 1,4-dioxane,” Nudelman says. In short, avoiding what are referred to as 'ethoxylated ingredients' is key.

Leiba adds that there are tens of thousands of potentially-contaminated products organized into the EWG’s Skin Deep database, including lotions, sunscreens, toothpastes, and many more, to help consumers with quick information.

When it comes to groundwater, you can support pending legislation in your state that seeks to regulate manufacturing processes. The issue has recently reentered the newscycle as New York passed stricter laws to reduce growing exposure, and others, like North Carolina, Michigan, and California, are now grappling with passing stricter legislation as well. While it’s not foolproof, it’s a start towards a cleaner routine—and life.

Photographs by Nikki Cruz.

Your Bag 0

Your cart is empty Shop all
Rose Inc GiftBox

Add a Signature Gift Box for $4

Choose Samples

Select 2 free samples
Add Free

Sample: Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum

Tinted Serum 130 Deluxe

Deep Skin Tone/Neutral Undertone

Add Free

Sample: Eye Revival Brightening Eye Cream Sachet

Add Free

Sample: Radiant Reveal Brightening Serum Sachet

Add Free

Sample: Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer


321 reviews


Light cool pink


Cream Blush Refillable Cheek & Lip Color

A hydrating cream that brightens and blurs with a radiant...

536 reviews

LX 200

Very Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone


Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer

A does-it-all concealer that brightens, blurs and contours while nourishing...

220 reviews


Very Deep Skin Tone/Red Undertone


Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum

A hydrating skin tint that delivers powerful skincare and sheer,...

412 reviews


Beige pink


Satin Lip Color Rich Refillable Lipstick

Creamy lipstick that plumps the lips while drenching delicate skin...

27 reviews


Number 1 Concealer Brush

A customized concealer brush with a unique curve engineered for...

205 reviews


Eye Revival Brightening Eye Cream

A pearlescent cream that diminishes the appearance of dark circles...

234 reviews


Radiant Reveal Brightening Serum

A powerful hydrating serum that instantly brightens the complexion with...



Number 6 Highlighter Brush

A petite dual-fiber brush that delivers seamless cream highlighter...