What is it?

“Nitrosamines are chemical compounds of the chemical structure R1N(–R2)–N=O, that is, a nitroso group bonded to an amine.” –Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Even though you will most likely not find nitrosamines on the content list of products, they are in fact present in a wide variety of cosmetics.

Nitrosamines are formed in products when an amine, ex ethanolamines compunds triethanolamine (TEA) or diethanolamine (DEA), reacts with a nitrosating agent. Different types of amines are some of the most common substances to find in cosmetics.

Nitrosating agents are not only compounds that are “visible” on the list of ingredients such as sodium nitrate. A nitrosating agent could also be “hidden” in a preservative that over time break down, after weeks or months, to a nitrosating agent.

The formation of nitrosamines can take place already during manufacture or after some shelf time. But in most cases the nitrosamines are formed when the product has been open for a couple of months, which is common for normal use of cosmetics.

Studies have shown that manufacturers using nitrosamine precursors (amines and nitrosating agents) in product formulations guarantees that that the cosmetic will contain the impurity. Although manufacturers may claim that other ingredients are added to halt the reaction – it is unlikely that it will prevent the formation altogether.

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) from the European Commission write in their report “Opinion on Nitrosamines and Secondary Amines in Cosmetic Products” that N-nitroso compounds (NOC) are amongst the most carcinogens. The SCCS also writes that all “primary, secondary and tertiary amines can all be nitrosated to generate nitrosamines.”

It is estimated that around 90 % of all nitrosamine compounds tested are carcinogenic.  Numerous reports also show that they “penetrate the skin” which means that they are readily (easily) absorbed through the skin.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) writes that “ingredients with “amine” in the name (which indicates amino acids, or building blocks of proteins) can indicate the potential for nitrosamine contamination.” They link nitrosamines to health concerns such as cancer, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity.

The EU and Canada has prohibited nitrosamines for use in cosmetic products.

How is it used?

It is quite common to find this substance in different kinds of latex and rubber products, foods, tobacco, and pesticides. But as mention above, if it is found in cosmetic products*, it is usually not visible in the list of ingredients. Nitrosamines are in the products as impurities, formed either during manufacture, after some shelf time, or after the product has been open for some time.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics writes that “Nitrosamines can form in nearly every kind of personal care product, including mascara, concealer, conditioner, baby shampoo, pain-relief salve and sunless tanning lotion.”

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”.

Did you find this ingredient in a product?

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