Safety of Disodium EDTA

Updated April 17, 2017

You may have noticed a compound called disodium EDTA in your beauty, food or cleaning products. It's an absorption agent and preservative that can be found in everything from wrinkle serum to washing powder. But there are a few major concerns about disodium EDTA.

Disodium EDTA Defined

EDTA stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, chemical formula C10H16N2O8. It is primarily synthesised from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. Disodium EDTA is a salt produced during this synthesis. It is a metal chelation agent, which means it binds with and deactivates heavy metal ions. Its uses in medicine include chelation therapy and anticoagulation in donated and transfused blood, but most people know it better as a common preservative. EDTA has many commercial and industrial uses and can be found in more products than you might suspect.

Products that Contain Disodium EDTA

Disodium EDTA is found in almost all commercial personal care products, such as shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, hair dye, lotion, sunscreen, shower gel and anti-ageing creams. It is added to personal care products to allow for deeper skin penetration, and to cosmetics to give them a longer shelf life when exposed to air. It also enhances foaming, which appeals to consumers who think the more suds a soap or detergent produces, the better it cleans. Its chelation properties make it a useful additive in hard water areas, helping products to rinse thoroughly from the skin and hair.

Dangers of Disodium EDTA

EDTA is being released into the environment in large quantities due to its many industrial uses. This has led environmentalist groups to claim that it is toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic, or capable of producing mutations in live offspring. However, clincial tests performed by the United States Food and Drug Administration show that disodium EDTA is non-toxic in quantities approved for over-the-counter use. Both the CIR Expert Panel and the EU Cosmetics Directive state that the amount of disodium EDTA contained in personal care products is too low to cause harm to human beings. EDTA itself does not penetrate the skin; however, its ability to facilitate penetration means you should be aware of the other ingredients your beauty products contain.

Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in Beauty Products

There are many personal care products made from all-natural ingredients that are excellent alternatives to commercial formulations. The downside to these preservative-free products is that they have a shorter shelf life than those containing EDTA. Consider buying smaller quantities more frequently, and preserving them in the refrigerator between uses. The cosmetics company LUSH actually sells its facial masks in metal bowls laid out on ice like a salad bar! Remember that EDTA-free cleansers may have less foaming action than you're used to. This is just fine and does not mean you're getting any less clean.

Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in Food Products

If you desire to limit your consumption of EDTA, stick to unprocessed foods. For example, a cup of prepackaged applesauce sitting at room temperature on your grocery store shelf contains preservatives, whereas a fresh apple doesn't. Just as with personal care products, buy smaller quantities more frequently. If this isn't practical, consider preparing your own foods ahead of time and freezing them. You can feel good about sending your kids to school with the applesauce you prepared in your slow-cooker, knowing you're feeding them completely preservative-free lunches. Living without EDTA is possible, it just takes a little extra time.

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About the Author

Ann Jones has been writing since 1998. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies. Her journalistic work can be found in major magazines and newspapers. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.