2D structural formula of Ethylene oxide


What is it?

“Ethylene oxide, called oxirane by IUPAC, is an organic compound with the formula C2H4O. It is a cyclic ether and the simplest epoxide: a three-membered ring consisting of one oxygen atom and two carbon atoms.” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies that ethylene oxide is “toxic if inhaled, may cause genetic defects, may cause cancer, is an extremely flammable gas, causes serious eye irritation, causes skin irritation, may cause respiratory irritation, is harmful if swallowed and contains gas under pressure and may explode if heated.”

Ethylene oxide is on the Red List* from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund). They classify the substance as a known carcinogen and an occupational concern.

Canada and the EU have prohibited the use of ethylene oxide in cosmetic products.

Possible contamination

Even if a product contain ethylene oxide it might not show on the ingredients list. The following substances are known to be contaminated by ethylene oxide:

* “The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.” – Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

How is it used?

Ethylene oxide is used as a sterilant preservative in cosmetic* and household products such as detergents. It may also be a contaminator in thousands of other products as it is used in the making of many consumer products and other non-consumer chemicals.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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