Looking through the products in your home, I'm sure we all are familiar with the ingredient disodium EDTA (or for someone who is actively reading the labels during the shopping). But did you know that disodium EDTA is potentially dangerous to your skin? Here's why.
What is Disodium EDTA, And How It Works?
Also known as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (or short for edetic acid), is an odorless, water-soluble crystalline that is a synthetic ingredient from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and sodium cyanide.
The crystalline salt is created for various purposes. Sometimes, it's acting as a food additive and a chelating agent to preserve the overall flavor and texture of food products. Another time, to prevent components from binding with each other (as it will ruin the whole product formula). Or even to help the ingredients to get into our skin and boost the cleaning capabilities of the product.
Disodium EDTA is quite common and largely used in food, skincare, and cosmetic industries. It's a staple in most products.
Particularly for food and skincare products, adding disodium EDTA into the formula can be quite controversial, even with FDA approvals for the ingredient (as a food additive), there's a set of limitations of how much of the powder can be added into the products - a good sign to look out for potential risk.
Besides the food and beauty industries, disodium EDTA is also commonly used in medical treatments to treat metal toxicity (either through IV or injection). The ingredient will bind toxic metals in the bloodstream, bringing them into the kidney before the organ flushes them out. Although it should be noted, a lot of medical experts are saying such treatments using the ingredient lacks solid proof.
Is EDTA natural?
As mentioned before, disodium EDTA is a synthetic ingredient and not naturally occurring.
Is EDTA vegan?
Disodium EDTA can be considered as a vegan since it's synthetic and not made from any animal-based products. But it does not make it a healthy ingredient.
Is disodium EDTA bad for your skin?
This issue is particularly huge as there's a growing concern of using disodium EDTA in skincare and cosmetic products (on top of food, of course).
The Cosmetic Database rates disodium EDTA as low risk, meaning it won't cause health hazards if taken below limits. At the moment, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel deems disodium EDTA (including related ingredients such as tetrasodium EDTA) is safe for human use, mainly because the ingredient is poorly absorbed in our skin.
However, since disodium EDTA also acts as a booster to enhance absorptions of the product, caution should be exercised regarding the whole formula if there are any other potentially harmful chemicals/ingredients that can freely absorb into the skin, due to the 'help' from disodium EDTA.
As a side note: while disodium EDTA is approved for commercial use for the public, several countries, including Australia and parts of Europe, have banned the ingredient because of potential health problems from overexposure.
While disodium EDTA is deemed safe for the skin and consumption, the same can't be said for the environment as disodium EDTA is identified to be persistent pollutants that take too long to degrade and to cause multiple environmental issues.
Is disodium EDTA carcinogen?
At the moment, there are no findings in studies to conclude that disodium EDTA is a carcinogen that can either cause you cancer or at least increases your risk to getting one, s noted by both FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, does it make it 100% safe? I think no since there is plenty of researches sponsored by cosmetic industries and not really reliable. The other thing is that you can't really measure the total toxic overload you have been exposed to for many years with multiple personal care and household products.
Is disodium EDTA safe to use during pregnancy?
For most of us (including pregnant moms), disodium EDTA is perfectly safe to be used as the ingredient is formulated quite low below the limits. Combined with the fact that it's absorbed poorly in our gut and skin, this alone will reduce potential overexposure to the minimum.
Still, the consensus is for expecting mothers, it's best for you to avoid disodium EDTA entirely from your system, just to be on the safe side.
High doses of disodium EDTA are seen as digestive distress and binds essential minerals from being absorbed into your body. However, it's something you'll unlikely to get from consuming food products with the ingredient alone.
That said, the jury is still out, and it's always a good idea to be aware of the ingredient ad it's potential. Indeed, there is a lot of food, skincare, and cosmetic products formulated with none of disodium EDTA - check out for the name E385 in food labels - you can reduce the exposure even further by opting for alternatives - or simply by going organic altogether. Keep in mind that beauty products formulated with none of the disodium EDTA will have a shorter lifespan, and they tend to be less foamy than your regular skincare.
At the moment, there are alternatives to disodium EDTA (thanks to the raising concerns voiced out by environmental advocates due to the origin of the salt from formaldehyde, a known carcinogen) that works in similar mechanisms as the ingredient. Such alternatives include methylglycinediacetic acid with high biodegradation compared to other chelating agents.
What are the possible side effects of using Disodium EDTA?
Should you have any overexposure to the ingredient (more than 3g of disodium EDTA per day), take note of the side effects as follows, as noted in multiple studies.
Too much of disodium EDTA can cause multiple side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, fever, and skin issues. Disodium EDTA also found to cause interference with blood sugar management in diabetics as it can interact with insulin, affecting heart rhythm for anyone having irregular heart rhythm, and even making breathing tubes narrow due to nebulizers that are containing disodium EDTA as part of their ingredient, as well as issues with reproductive organs.
Since disodium EDTA is also working as a chelating agent, it can be dangerous when there's an excess in the bloodstream as the ingredient can bind with potassium, increasing the concentration of the mineral to be flushed out through kidney. This, in turn, causes your body to have way low of the mineral, especially if you have it too low to begin with.
A similar mechanism also applies to calcium and magnesium, causing your body to have the mineral too low, creating hypocalcemia (increasing the risk of getting seizures) and mineral imbalances worse.
If you exceed than maximum limits, serious side effects include severe kidney damage, mineral imbalance in the bloodstream, and even death.
The Bottom Line...
While disodium EDTA is deemed safe for use and consumption, we should be aware of the danger of overexposure and taking necessary steps to avoid getting one. After all, since the ingredient is pretty much everywhere, we need to be extra careful with products that we are using, slowly making our way to reduce the exposure to the ingredient to the bare minimum.