Triethanolamine(TEA), Diethonlamine(DEA) and Monoethonalamine(MEA) are a group of related compounds that are widely used in skin care products and cosmetics. These ingredients are used as industrial chemical as well. Triethanolamine, Diethonlamine and Monoethonalamine are linked to liver cancer, skin irritation and aquatic toxicity. In this article, I have compiled the conclusions of various studies from Pubmed on MEA, DEA or TEA and its effect . I have deliberately excluded any data published without any evidence.
What are Triethanolamine (TEA), Diethonlamine(DEA) and Monoethonalamine(MEA) ?
TEA, DEA and MEA are related amino-alcohols that are used in:
- Manufacturing of household detergents and polishes, herbicides, vegetable and mineral oils, paraffin and waxes, plastics, resins, adhesives and ointment.
- Cosmetics or skin care products, as hair and skin conditioning agents, surfactant-cleansing or surfactant-emulsifying agents, or as opacifying agent.
What are the possible side effects of Triethanolamine, Diethonlamine and Monoethonalamine?
There is a weak evidence on the implication of these chemicals in the following:
- Liver cancer: These ingredients might cause cancer in mice and not rats, according to few studies. The mechanism is not through genotoxicity, but by reduction in levels of choline in the liver cells. The results are unlikely to be extrapolated to humans though. The other and more serious concern is the conversion to carcinogen N-nitrosodiethanolamine; if TEA, MEA or DEA are used in combination with certain ingredients.
- Irritation and sensitization: TEA, MEA and DEA have sensitization potential, maximum in MEA and least in TEA, according to a study. So, if you have sensitive or allergic skin, prefer products without TEA, DEA or MEA.
- Aquatic toxicity: This group of chemical is harmful to aquatic species.
Should you avoid TEA/MEA/DEA?
Di- and triethanolamine are readily converted to a known carcinogen N-nitrosodiethanolamine, in the presence of N-nitrosating agents. CIR Expert Panel (1983) concluded thatdi- and triethanolamines should not be used in cosmetic products that contain N-nitrosating agents as intentional ingredients or as potential contaminants.
However, we dependent entirely on the honesty of cosmetic product manufacturing for the absence of N-nitrosating agents as contaminant. When a popular and reliable skin lightening cream can contain mercury and Nestle brand Maggi can have lead, how can we rely solely on the product manufacturer for ensuring that the products are free of contaminants, in the absence of any stringent law regarding the testing of cosmetics.
So, the safest option is to avoid TEA/DEA or MEA is your skin care products/cosmetics. Unfortunately many skin care products and prescribed medication contain them. So, the best thing you can do is to scan the ingredient list for absence of these 3 ingredients.