Innospec Offers a Broad Range of High-performing Surfactants, Ideal to Formulate 1,4-dioxane Free

Interview with Dr. Tony Gough - CSci, CChem FRSC,
Director of Innovation for Sustainability, Innospec Ltd

You claim to be Leader in 1,4-Dioxane free surfactants. Can you explain?

Innospec has an extensive range of high-performing surfactants which are 1,4-dioxane free which can be used in numerous types of formulations for applications in personal care, home care, agrochemical, industrial and other market sectors. This range includes α-olefin sulfonate, taurate, isethionate, alkyl polyglucoside, betaine and amphoacetate surfactants.

We also have significant technical expertise gained over many years in formulating with these surfactants for all the conceivable application types they can be used in. This enables us to provide our customers with state-of-the art example starting formulations or collaborate with them to help them develop formulations which meet their needs.

How do impending regulatory restrictions influence the formulation of 1,4-Dioxane free products?

1,4-Dioxane is an unavoidable trace impurity by-product which forms during the manufacture of certain surfactants that contain ethoxylate units such as alkyl ether sulfates and can therefore be found as a trace impurity in numerous household cleaning and personal care cleansing products containing these surfactants. Its presence in these products has been known since the 1970s and, although it is classed as a possible human carcinogen, at the low levels at which it can be present in these products it is thought not to pose any risk to consumers when using these products. However, concerns over levels of 1,4-dioxane found in drinking water prompted the imposition of a severe restriction on the level that 1,4-dioxane can be present in homecare, I&I and personal care products in the USA (New York State) (1 ppm maximum which started on 1st January 2024) and severe restrictions have recently also been proposed on the level of 1,4-dioxane that will be permitted in surfactant raw materials produced in, or imported into, EU countries.

It should be emphasised that ethoxylated surfactants such as alcohol ethoxylates and SLES have been workhorse, highly efficient and economical surfactants for many applications for decades and have long histories of safe use. Indeed, there are no substitutes for them in many of the applications they are used it. It is therefore hoped that these trusted, respected and widely used surfactants will not eventually be legislated out of existence due to their trace 1,4-dioxane content. However, the restrictions imposed so far, and the additional restrictions being proposed, have put 1,4-dioxane under the spotlight and so might motivate companies to modify their formulations to be ‘1,4-dioxane free’ where possible. This means either not using any ethoxylate-containing surfactants in their formulations or using ethoxylate-containing surfactants which have no measurable 1,4-dioxane according to state-of-the art analytical techniques.  

What are the effects of 1,4-Dioxane containing Home- or Personal Care products on the environment?

There is no evidence I am aware of that the trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane present in home- or personal-care products have any effect on the environment or, indeed, have ever had any effect on the environment in all the decades that surfactants containing trace levels of 1,4-dioxane impurity have been on the market. However, as mentioned above, the main concern is that 1,4-dioxane can find its way into drinking water in extremely trace amounts and there is a concern by some authorities that this can be detrimental to human health. However, there is currently no evidence that drinking water with trace quantities of 1,4-dioxane has ever caused any adverse effects to any life forms.

How can you help clients to reformulate their products to make them 1,4-Dioxane free?

As mentioned in a previous answer, Innospec has an extensive and versatile range surfactants which are 1,4-dioxane free along with exceptional technical and formulation expertise with these surfactants for all of the applications types they can be used in. This enables us to provide our customers with compelling example starting formulations or collaborate with them to either reformulate their existing formulations, where possible, or devise new formulations which meet their needs.


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