EDTA, also known as disodium EDTA, EDTA disodium or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, is a widely used chemical compound found in personal care, skin care, processed foods, cosmetic preparations and cleaning products. EDTA has extensive medical, engineering, agricultural and industrial applications as well. With its wide range of uses and ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, it is important to know about the purpose of EDTA as well as related dangers, since EDTA may contribute to the formation of carcinogens.
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EDTA in Cosmetics, Personal Care and Skin Care
In cosmetics, personal care and skin care products, EDTA is a primary chelating agent (binds free metal ions), preservative, stabiliser and purifying agent that keeps formulas free of metallic ions and residue found in tap water. It helps reduce the hardness (mineral content) in tap water so that other active ingredients in a formula, such as a shampoo or bath gel, can work more effectively. EDTA also helps the topical penetration of active ingredients in skin care to increase serum levels of beneficial chemicals
EDTA in Food and Beverages
EDTA is commonly used in food and beverages as a preservative and stabiliser and protects food products from discolouration and oxidation. Be aware that EDTA reacts negatively with Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and sodium bicarbonate in sodas and soft drinks, with higher propensity to form benzene, a carcinogen. Do not drink soft drinks that contain EDTA.
EDTA in Cleansing Agents
In laundry products and cleansing agents, EDTA softens hard water and improves the bleaching and cleansing performance of non-chlorine cleansers.
Industrial Uses of EDTA
EDTA is a major chelating agent that scavenges free metallic ions. Almost all of its usefulness to humans comes from this single property. In the laundry industry, this means removing hard water impurities. In the textile industry, EDTA prevents free metal ions and impurities from discolouring dyed fabrics. In the paper industry, EDTA assists the effectiveness of bleaching and purification procedures for paper pulp. EDTA also removes residue and scale left on industrial equipment that operate under high temperature, such as grills.
Medical Applications of EDTA
EDTA is used to treat mercury and other heavy metal poisoning by means of chelation therapy. Similarly, it removes excess iron and calcium from the body. In blood-related medical applications, EDTA optimises repeated blood transfusions and is an effective anticoagulant, preventing blood samples from solidifying and cell samples from clumping. This is important especially in clinical blood tests and cell analysis. EDTA is also used as a preservative in eye drops, a decalcifying and preparative agent in oral surgery and dentistry, and anti-plaque agent in arteries.
There is no drastic danger related to the general applications of EDTA in commercial personal care products. However, EDTA is so proliferate in industrial use, medical use, in commercial products and general waste that it is becoming a major environmental pollutant. EDTA shows toxicity when ingested orally in excess amounts, especially in the presence of Vitamin C and sodium bicarbonate (common in soft drinks). Avoid soft drinks that contain EDTA when Vitamin C and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are also listed amongst the ingredients. Cosmetic and topical use of formulas containing EDTA does not create toxicity levels that cause direct harm to human bodies, though many pro-natural, pro-organic groups warn strongly against toxic dangers of EDTA.