By Ann Jones

You may have come across an ingredient called disodium EDTA in many of your beauty, food and cleaning products. It's a compound that acts as an absorption agent and preservative and can be found in everything from wrinkle serum to laundry detergent. Like with many synthetic preservatives, there are a few factors to be wary of when purchasing products containing this compound.

Different cosmetics products on the white
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What is it?

EDTA stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, chemical formula C10H16N2O8. It is synthesised in a lab, from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and sodium cyanide. Disodium EDTA is the salt produced as a result. It is a metal chelation agent, which means it binds with and deactivates heavy metal ions. Its used in medicine for chelation therapy and anticoagulation of donated/transfused blood. Disodium EDTA is also used commercially in food and beauty products.

Products that Contain Disodium EDTA

Disodium EDTA can be found in many manufactured personal care products, such as shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, hair dye, lotion, sunscreen, shower gel, and anti-aging creams. It's added to the products to give them a longer shelf life after opening. It also enhances foaming and appeals to consumers who like this added feature. Its chelation properties make it a useful additive in regions where water is "hard," and helps products to rinse thoroughly from the skin and hair.

Dangers of Disodium EDTA

As a result of its widespread use, disodium EDTA is being released into the environment in plentiful amounts. This has led environmentalist groups to research and learn of its toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic dangers. However, clincial tests performed by the United States Food and Drug Administration show that disodium EDTA is non-toxic in quantities approved for over-the-counter use. Both the CIR Expert Panel and the EU Cosmetics Directive state that the amount of disodium EDTA contained in personal care products is too low to cause harm to human beings. The jury's still out; regardless it's safe to be mindful when purchasing any products containing synthetic preservatives.

Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in Beauty Products

If you want to play it safe, there are beauty products made from all-natural ingredients that are excellent alternatives to commercial formulations. The only downside to these preservative-free products is that they have a shorter shelf life. EDTA- free cleansers also may have less foaming action --- a minor sacrifice for natural skin-care. Consider buying smaller quantities more frequently, and refrigerating them in between use. The cosmetics company LUSH actually sells its facial masks in metal bowls laid out on ice like a salad bar!

Alternatives to Disodium EDTA in Food Products

If you want to eliminate or reduce EDTA from your diet, stick to unprocessed foods. A jar of applesauce sitting at room-temp on the shelf is loaded with preservatives, where an apple in the produce section is not. Just as with beauty products the same goes with food; buy smaller quantities more frequently. If it's difficult to make it to the grocery store multiple times a week, consider preparing your own foods ahead of time and freezing them. Living without EDTA is possible, it just takes some extra effort and time.