What Is DEA In Skincare?

DEA bottle

Diethanolamine, or DEA, is an organic substance typically used as an emulsifier or wetting agent in skincare products. DEA produces foam and bubbles when added to cosmetics, characteristic of certain face washes, and it also modifies the consistency of the products. This allows for a pleasant experience when using these cosmetic and allows for the manufacturer to control the thickness and feeling of creams and washes.

Is DEA safe in skincare products?

DEA has been under scrutiny for many decades for it’s potential toxicity to humans. You’re probably therefore wondering whether the addition of DEA in skincare products is safe.

DEA itself when added to skincare lotions and washes is a completely safe compound with little to no carcinogenity. The National Toxicology Program or NTP based in the U.S. conducted a study in 1998 to determine the carcinogenity of DEA when topically applied. The dermal studies did not establish a link between application of DEA and a carcinogenic response or an increased risk of cancer in humans[1].

Having said that, there are derivatives of DEA that should be potentially be avoided. You should stay away from the following:

  • Cocamide DEA: Derived from the fatty acids in coconuts, Cocamide DEA has been found to be a carcinogen to humans. Use of Cocamide DEA has been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity and allergic reactions[2].
  • Cocamide MEA
  • Lauramide DEA: Derived from lauric acid, Lauramide DEA was found to be potentially toxic or harmful to humans. Use of Lauramide DEA is therefore restricted in cosmetics[3].
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Triethanolamine (TEA) Lauryl Sulfate: Use of this ethanolamine is restricted in skincare products, and it has been classified to be toxic or harmful to humans[4].
  • Triethanolamine: TEA’s use in cosmetics is restricted, it has been classified to be a toxicant to the human immune system, skin, and organ systems[5].

As always, ensure you read the ingredient statement on your skincare and cosmetic products to determine which diethanolamine has been added. Although the use of most of the above DEA derivatives has been restricted, it’s always good practise to see what exactly you’re applying to your skin.


[1] https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/diethanolamine

[2] https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/701516-COCAMIDE_DEA/

[3] https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/703401-LAURAMIDE_DEA/

[4] https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/706642-triethanolamine-lauryl-sulfate/

[5] https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/706639-triethanolamine/

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