- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Enjoying your natural vanilla and aloe shampoo? Bathing baby in a garden of honeysuckle? Feeling good about the earth, as well as your skin, when showering with pricey “natural” products?

It turns out that many of those products have the same petrochemical compound found in less-expensive mainstream bath products, according to a recent study.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), an advocacy group, recently tested 100 personal care and cleaning products touted as “natural” or “organic.” Forty-seven of the samples contained 1,4-dioxane, a petroleum-based compound that appears as a byproduct of the processing used to soften harsh detergents.

Among the samples containing 1,4-dioxane: products from well-known brands such as Kiss My Face, Jason Natural Products, Whole Foods’ 365 Brand and Seventh Generation. Products featuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Organic” seal, which must contain 95 percent natural ingredients, did not contain the compound.

“We are so addicted to oil, we are literally bathing our children in it,” said David Steinman, a consumer advocate who led the study. “People are getting misled that they are getting something natural, pure and organic. The only products that are really [pure] had the USDA or German certification decals.”

This study is the latest in the disagreement between consumer advocates and regulators. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates personal care products, has said that the amounts of 1,4-dioxane found in these products do not present a hazard for consumers. Similarly, household products are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which also has no limit for an acceptable amount of 1,4-dioxane.

In California, a law requires that anything containing more than 30 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane carry a warning. Most of the bath products came in well under that level (Jason Fragrance Free Satin Soap was an 11.9 ppm, for example). However, many dish soaps came in close to the 30 parts per million mark.

It is unknown how much exposure a human would have to have to 1,4-dioxane to be in danger of getting cancer, but lab animals fed with the compound for several weeks developed nasal, liver and gall bladder cancers.

Adam Lowry, founder of Method, which makes personal care and cleaning products, said dish soap is drastically diluted during use.

“We always seek natural ingredients,” Mr. Lowry said. “But there is no natural ingredient that can clean effectively. The levels of 1,4-dioxane would have to be about 100,000 times greater to even be thinking of concern.”

Mr. Lowry said his company does not state that its products are “natural” or “organic.” Method products are made from naturally derived ingredients, he said.

“We take naturally derived ingredients and modify them a bit to make an effective cleaner,” he said. “We are very transparent about the claims we make.”

Meanwhile, the OCA has sent cease-and-desist letters to companies whose products contain 1,4-dioxane, despite being sold in the natural personal care section.

“We’re telling them they have got to clean it up,” said OCA director Ronnie Cummins. “If they don’t get back to us by Earth Day, we are taking them to court. It is still the Wild West out there in terms of labeling. We’re relying on the industry to tell us which products are safe.”

Lisa Lehndorff, director of corporate consumer relations for Hain Celestial, the parent company for Jason Natural Products, Alba Botanica, Avalon Organics and Zia Natural Skincare, said her company will review the OCA’s test results. Two Alba and three Jason products — but no Avalon or Zia products — were found with 1,4-dioxane.

“All our products are safe and effective for use on the body, while also being conscious of their impact on the environment,” Ms. Lehndorff said in a statement. “We continually evaluate and occasionally reformulate our existing products as new research and information on the safety of ingredients becomes available.”

Consumer advocate Paula Begoun, author of “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” as well as several other books on the cosmetics industry, said she doubts that the amount of 1,4-dioxane in any bath products — natural or mainstream — would pose a health risk to consumers since they are quickly rinsed off.

However, the bigger issue is that natural doesn’t always mean better for you.

“Many natural ingredients pose a legitimate threat to skin even when used in tiny amounts,” said Ms. Begoun. “But how likely are we to see a [warning] from a pro-organic organization about the evils of lemon or peppermint oils? It is a mistake to believe natural is always better, whether the ingredient is organic or not. Many natural ingredients are beneficial for the skin, just as many synthetic ingredients are.”

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