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Ingredient Watch List: Tetrasodium EDTA, the Preservative Made from Formaldehyde

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

If you knew your personal care products had preservatives made from carcinogens, would you want to use them?

We didn’t think so. Yet one ingredient made from a potential carcinogen is found in many personal care products, and is reported by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review to be safe.

It’s tetrasodium ETDA, made from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde—a known carcinogen according to the National Cancer Institute—and sodium cyanide (which is made from the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide).

It gets worse. This ingredient is also a penetration enhancer. That means it breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, making it easier for other potentially harmful ingredients in the formula to sink deeper into your tissues and perhaps even into your bloodstream.

Tetrasodium EDTA

Some of your creams may contain a preservative made from formaldehyde—you deserve better.

What is Tetrasodium EDTA?

Tetrasodium ETDA (which stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a water-soluble ingredient used as a “chelator,” which means it binds to certain mineral ions to inactivate them. Through this action, it can prevent the deterioration of cosmetic and personal care products, as it stops the growth of mold and other microorganisms. Tetrasodium EDTA also helps maintain clarity, protect fragrance compounds, and prevent rancidity. One of its main uses it to help personal care products work better in hard water.

Laboratory technicians use the three ingredients mentioned above to synthesize EDTA, and then tetrasodium EDTA is derived from that. You’ll find it in moisturizers, skin care and cleansing products, personal cleanliness products, bath soaps, shampoos and conditioners, hair dyes, hair bleaches, and many other products. It’s also cleared for use in packaged foods, vitamins, and baby food.

Is It Safe?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and concluded that disodium ETDA and related ingredients (including tetrasodium EDTA) were safe as used in cosmetic ingredients and personal care products. The panel also said the ingredient was not well absorbed in the skin. They did note, however, that since the ingredients are penetration enhancers, formulators should be careful when combining these preservatives with other ingredients that may be hazardous if absorbed.

The Cosmetic Safety Database rates the hazard of the ingredient at a low “2,” with a low overall health hazard, and EDTA has not been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

In addition to the formaldehyde thing, however—which makes me uncomfortable—this ingredient may also contain dangerous levels of dioxane, a by-product of manufacturing that is also carcinogenic. There have been some case reports of sensitive individuals developing eczema after using cream with tetrasodium EDTA, and it’s known to be a potent eye irritant. It can also be slow to degrade, making it a poor choice for environmental health.

Why Take the Risk?

This is another one of those synthetic preservatives that just doesn’t feel good. We don’t have established scientific data on whether long-term use may hurt us, but just looking at the sources, is this really something we want to be putting on our skin?

We have other alternatives we can use, like coconut and castor oils for lather, and orange and cedar wood essential oils for natural preservatives, just to name a few. I would much rather nourish my skin with natural ingredients I know to be safe, rather than take a risk with something chemical, harsh, and potentially harmful—particularly when I have a little one running around the house who may be even more sensitive!

To avoid this ingredient, watch for these on the label:

  • Edetate sodium
  • Tetrasodium edetate
  • Tetrasodium salt

Do you avoid this ingredient in your products? Have you experienced sensitivity to it?

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“Tetrasodium EDTA,” National Library of Medicine HSDB Database, http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+5003.

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27 Responses to “Ingredient Watch List: Tetrasodium EDTA, the Preservative Made from Formaldehyde”

  • Kay says:

    Thank you for the information,i had just started using a Tea Tree soap which contains Tetrasodium Edta.AHA and BHA,i was just curious to check if they are harmful to the skin.Thats when i stumbled on this link.

    I think i am fine with very natural products on my skin.This soap was literally itching on my skin when i use hence the curiousity to check it out.

  • d trotter says:

    WOW i bought spa touch unscented lotion for use of professional massge work I myslef as the professional developed a rash unknown sources!!! went to md 3 times ,next to er, next to dermatologist! skin graph possibly showning reaction to maybe gluten not sur now back to md (4th) time! and now reading ingredents and researching by name the tetrasodiumn edta(can cause rashes) called the company to see if it contained gluten but to find out much worse ingredredints im still waitong to see what rash is from going to bring the lotions ingredients to my dermatologist. Im not to happy right now And all in one sentence i typed this sorry for going on and on but im sooo upset and the triethanomine it contains is bad for skin

  • Stephanie says:

    I have had 3 cases of horrible hives. I break out head to toe and the hives and itching lasts for 6 weeks. I made the correlation to when I get my hair done. I saw an allergist who claimed it couldn’t have been hair color, however, my reactions are exactly the same each time. My scalp is irritated And itchy for a couple of days, then the lymph nodes on my head swell up huge. Then the lymph nodes on the back of my neck swell, and by 7 days (each time) after getting my hair colored, I break out in head to toe hives. After realizing it wasn’t the color (twice was red, this last time was a completely different blonde), I started investigating the color developer, and realized this product was a suspicious culprit. All of the other ingredients are harmless in the developer. Wicked nasty stuff!!

    • admin says:

      Thank goodness you found out what it was, now you can avoid it and have a happy scalp again, the things we (used to) do for beauty :) Thank you for sharing and make it a wonder-filled day :)

  • Amy says:

    Packages apples from McDonalds actually contains this!! After my daughter broke out in hives after eating them I started researching it. She has never had a reaction to apples so I thought it must be the preservative!! We will never eat those again!! And will make sure to tell others not to eat them either!!

    • Louise Levergneux says:

      Chris, you mentioned a list/web link to see a handful of products (639) that already contain the ingredient Tetrasodium EDTA, the preservative made from formaldehyde. Can you actually email me this list at louiselevergneux (at) gmail.com, I am very interested in verifying any products in our house.
      Thank you,


      • I would love to have the list from you if possible. I have gone to the doctor for over 1 year with lymph nodes swelling, not feeling good, hurting and the doctor cannot tell me what is happening to me. I want to see if this is also my problem. Thanks.

  • chris says:

    15 years ago I discovered by accident how everyday body care products contained ingredients that are carcinogenic; my underarm deodorant started causing skin breakouts and rashes. The real problem was it wasn’t just a single product either, I was allergic to all of them. I loved the salt rock, but it wasn’t cost effective (breaks when dropped). So I started making my own natural products and haven’t looked back since.

    I provided a web link above for others to see a handful of products (639) that already contain this ingredient. You may be surprised that beyond personal care, tetrasodium-edta can be found in auto & pet products as well.
    Acetic acid is naturally derived from Vinegar; produced by vinegar fermentation and subsequent oxidation of ethanol.

    “The global demand of acetic acid is around 6.5 million tonnes per year (Mt/a), of which approximately 1.5 Mt/a is met by recycling; the remainder is manufactured from petrochemical feedstock.”
    Resource: “Hosea Cheung; Robin S. Tanke; G. Paul Torrence (2005), “Acetic Acid”, Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Weinheim: Wiley-VCH”

    Things to keep in mind MSDS:

    -Special Remarks on Reactivity:
    Avoid contact with aluminum, copper, copper alloys, zinc, and nickel, and strong oxidizers.

    Versene, Kalex, Hampene, Dissolvine; EDTA tetrasodium salt dihydrate; Tetrasodium EDTA dihydrate; Tetrasodium salt EDTA dihydrate; Tetrasodium salt of EDTA, dihydrate; Tetrasodium salt of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, dihydrate; Sodium salt of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, dihydrate; Sodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate, dihydrate; Sodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, dihydrate; Sodium EDTA, dihydrate; Edetate sodium dihydrate; Edetic acid tetrasodium salt, dihydrate; Endrate tetrasodium; Ethylenebis(iminodiacetic acid) tetrasodium salt, dihydrate; Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, tetrasodium salt, dihydrate ; Edathaniltetrasodium , dihydrate ; N, N’-Ethylenediaminediacetic acid tetrasodium salt.

    -Chemical Name:
    Acetic acid, (etrhylenedinitrilo)tetra-, tetrasodium salt, dihydrate

    -Chronic Effects on Humans:
    May cause damage to the following organs: upper respiratory tract, skin, eyes.

    -Special Remarks on other Toxic Effects on Humans:
    The toxicological properties of this substance have not been fully investigated.

  • My daughter was visiting and somehow the soap I’ve been using, called “Basis” came up. She googled one of the ingredients, “Tetrasodium” and uncovered it as formaldehyde though mine had a second part, “Etidronate” and hers had something different (forgot).

    My horror, especially since it was advised by my dermatologist MANY years ago and I use it almost exclusively for hands and bath. Why not call an apple an apple and not use terminology with which the public doesn’t identify. Normally, I check things out, but when the dermotol. recommended it and it helped the dermatitis I had then (don’t have now), it became my soap. What’s out there one can trust??????

  • Wendy Swanson says:

    YOU BET I REACTED, ANAPHYLACTICALLY! I had been using a well-known natural hair care product, and never had a problem, until I bought a different scent from the same company. The only difference was “supposed to be” that it was wheat free. I know the owner to be very picky about what he puts in his products, so I thought it was safe. It was a hair cleanser. I no sooner put it on my hair than I started itching. I ended up nearly having to use my EPI-PEN, as I also was having trouble breathing. Thank God, as soon as I rinsed it out very thoroughly, the problem went away. I’ll have to watch every label from now on. I’m also contacting the company, hoping to get them to remove it from the product, as it is not in most of them…I don’t know why they put it in this one.

  • Judith Texier says:

    is there a commercially available moisturizer base that does not contain Tetrasodium EDTA, Even bases that adver, as organic seem to have this ingredient.

  • Denise says:

    Ever since I became pregnant I’d been doing research on products such as food bath and body for The duration of pregnancy and for after my baby was born. Its a shame the things that are allowed in baby products. In doing research I did find a company whose products are completely free of harmful chemicals to both you and baby. Honest products check them out for yourself honest.com

  • Sammi says:

    Am trying to figure out if my very strong allergic reaction is from EDTA. It was in a detergent/disinfectant used in my home which caused my lips to burn like crazy and got swellings between nose and lip and little blisters on lip. Nose and eyes also burning and some face swelling. Still wont go away completely. I had burnt lips thing twice before and am trying to cross refernce. Once to blood test tubes that I sent for in mail and the strongest to a 24 hour urine collection container. Did someone here say acetic acid was same thing?? I know the collection container did contain an acid.

  • kim says:

    Ever since I found out that 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream and internal organs, I decided to offer my NO CHEMICAL all natural products for expecting moms and newborns, including all deodorant and toothpaste.

    My 26-year old daughter is now pregnant with my first grandchild so I have named the products after her: “Bella’s Bath & Body’ The newborn’s will be called Baby Bella products and will include Bella’s BabyCakes, made from Avocado Oil, Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Bees Wax
    and Wheat Germ Oil.

    The soap and cosmetic industries have been getting rich selling us cancer causing, chemical-laden products. It’s time we got as smart about what we put ON our bodies as we are about what we put IN our bodies.

    Check out squareup.com for Bella’s Body & Bath in June.

  • Organic Terri says:

    Rule of thumb. Do not put anything on your skin that you would not put in your mouth.

  • Nicole says:

    I finally identified EDTA as being the cause of my severe skin reaction and that of my daughter…this chemical is in almost everything! It was the one chemical that I saw again and again as I looked across my hair gel to shampoo to conditioner to hand soap. The worst offending products are liquid hand soap. I’ve gotten so sensitized now that putting regular hand soap on my hands hurts like acid and takes heavy-duty steroid cream for a week to clear up the open wounds left behind…I now read all labels and have switched to all EDTA-free products. They are hard to find, but 1 out of 10 products on the shelf is EDTA-free…sometimes it is the cheapest product out there. For me a big disappointment was that “sensitive skin” products and baby products have this sensitizer chemical in them! Now my “untreatable” contact dermatitis is finally under control….years later!

    • Mary Anne says:

      I just found out I am allergic to EDTA and fragrance, so finding products without either one has been a challenge. I did find a Eucerin lotion without either in it. I am still looking for a moisturizer with sunscreen as well as a hair color product if anyone has any suggestions.

  • caroline says:

    I used handi wipes containing EDTA, wiped my forehead with the cloth and forehead turned red and irritated. Read the label and started to research this ingredient. I will avoid this ingredient in the future.

  • Doris Early says:

    Yes…we have notice the rashes from the soaps that WE NOW KNOW contain this product(tetrasodium). The liquid hand soap and tooth paste ,Colgate (optic white)…I don’t like the optic part. THEY are extra suddsy and yes I can tell they are harmful. I am like a canary in a coalmine anyway.

  • Ian says:

    Tetrasodium EDTA is a chelating agent. It increases uptake of heavy metals by plants. This means that it is not good in the environment, and especially not in a grey water system. My garden is fed by greywater from my house. I have no desire to eat vegetables laced with heavy metals, so I started making my own soap. LUSH put Tetrasodium EDTA in many of their products

  • Nancy says:

    I visited a restaurant and went to ladies room then washed my hands using a liquid soap dispenser. Before I got back to my table, I started having a severe anaphylactic reaction. Heart began racing, eyes itched, lips tingled and swelled, tongue swelled and throat began closing up and I couldn’t breathe. Hands began to itch and chigger-like bites appeared on the backs of them. Began to get hot from neck to top of my head. Shoulder blades began to itch and then across my lower back! Was able to get and take 2 Benedryl tablets and the symptoms slowly eased but not until I also began experiencing severe chills! I am not allergic to any products and I was terrified. I later was able to get soap ingredient list from restaurant owner and researched all products and based on all your comments on this site, I believe it was the tetrasodium EDTA that caused the problem. Next time I might not be so lucky from what I have read about subsequent exposure to this stuff. I will carry antibacterial hand cleanser and forgo those bathroom dispensers from here on out! You might be wise to do the same.

  • Tony says:

    Just wanted to say hi to the community. Please check out this website regarding natural soap, free from all chemicals: http://www.vermontsoap.com. Their site has a wealth of information that I believe will bring a smile to your face. Will share other health things as time progress.

  • Jon says:

    Thanks for this! I bought a RealAloe soap bar from my local Sprouts. I didn’t even see the EDTA in the ingredients. 100% real organic aloe, yet it has EDTA… I’ve read amazon reviews that say they broke out from it, so I moved on to something else. :(

  • SE says:

    Thanks, I was looking at some ingredients on Bubble Bath (Mr. Bubble) and it contained this so I stumbled upon this website! Of course turns out it can be this harmful I can’t believe kids were taking Bubble Bath with this in it back when.

  • Simo says:

    Thank you very much for such a precise review. Finally I have understood the potential risks of Terasodium EDTA ( It was quite confusing to me evaluate its safety. — many reviews actually wrote that it is safe in cosmetics — but none of them mentioned that it is a component made by formaldehyde–). Thank you deeply. I would like to ask you other questions. Is it possible to contact you? Where can I contact you? Thanks, Simo

  • Tanji says:

    In response to Stephanie above (and others). I also have had chronic urticaria (hives) for last seven months. Eliminated EVERYTHING with no luck and then went to MD. Had patch and scratch tests for chemicals and found that I am allergic to Balsam of Peru (benzoic acid). No kidding – it is in everything under many different names. Used as a food preservative, as a preservative in face and hair products, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, sunscreens, pesticides, soaps, cleaning products, fragrance in perfumes, etc. It is a common ingredient in highly processed foods such as carbonated sodas, vinegar, fruit juices, salad dressings, etc.

    Scary part that it is in EVERYTHING and when it is combined with ascorbic acid (citric acid – vitamin C) it forms the chemical benzene – a suspected carcinogenic.

    A number of national and international surveys have identified Balsam of Peru as being in the “TOP FIVE” allergens most commonly causing patch test reactions in people referred to dermatology clinics.

    It is hard to pin down as it can take up to 72 hours for the hives to appear and the skin reaction lasts from 2 – 8 weeks EVEN if you don’t come into contact with the substance again. If you have had exposures over time it may take 3 – 6 months for it to completely get out of your system.

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