EWG Risk Score:
What is it?
Triethanolamine is a detergent and emulsifying agent.
Why is it a risk?
TEA is created by reacting ammonia with ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen). Amines such as TEA can degrade and break down in to nitrosamines under certain conditions. Some people are also sensitive to TEA, and it can cause skin redness and burning. It can also cause respiratory responses in airpborne products (like hairspray). Most TEA on the market is a blend of about 85% TEA and 15% DEA, Diethanolamine. Diethanolamine, a related chemical, has been linked to certain types of cancers.
Alone, TEA has not been shown to form nitrosamines when it breaks down. However, in the presence of N-nitrostating agents like sodium nitrate, bronopol, and brondiox, it has the potential to form nitrosamines. The FDA recommends keeping TEA and nitrosating agents apart so that no nitrosamines are formed. So, although the risk of nitrosamine formation is low, this is still a troublesome ingredient because of its risk of skin irritation and because of its contamination with DEA.