Similar to many other substances, the main concerns of the octoxynols are the “intended” contamination. The substances are made through something called ethoxylation where the toxic chemical ethylene oxide is added, usually to make the chemical milder. In the ethoxylation reactions, another toxic chemical is also formed; 1,4-dioxane. Thus the contamination is an expected chemical reaction. Nevertheless, 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide are not required to be listed as ingredients.
Octoxynol-40 is on the Red List* from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund). They are concerned because octoxynol-40 might be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4- dioxane.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies that octoxynol-40 is “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects, causes serious eye damage, is harmful if swallowed and causes skin irritation.” Furthermore, Octoxynol-9 is “harmful if swallowed, causes serious eye irritation and causes skin irritation.”
Even though it is not listed on the ingredient labels, products with octoxynols are likely to contain trace amounts of:
* “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