Ethylene oxide is a colorless, flammable, cyclic compound of two carbon atoms and one oxygen atom, commonly used to make supplies for commercial manufacturing. It is also a key component in the production of many household products and can be used to sterilize medical equipment. This article will cover the uses and dangers of ethylene oxide (EtO), including federal recommendations regarding its use.
Where is Ethylene Oxide found?
Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize medical equipment, prevent germs on surgical instruments, clean and disinfect rooms, decontaminate laboratory materials, sterilize food processing equipment, and more. However, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has noted that although ethylene oxide can be effective for sterilizing equipment, its flammable nature makes it unsuitable for situations where there may be an explosion risk.
Ethylene oxide can also be found in many common household products such as baby wipes, carpet cleaners, paints and coatings, or adhesives that are used to seal food containers. One of the biggest sources of ethylene oxide exposure comes from the improper use of products containing ethylene oxide at home. When you clean products containing ethylene oxide, it can be released as a vapor into your home.
Ethylene Oxide in the Beauty Industry
When it comes to the chemicals used in the beauty industry, there are some that you’ll want to stay away from. Ethylene Oxide is one of those chemicals you want to avoid when possible, since it’s a known carcinogen and can cause severe side effects.
Ethylene Oxide can be produced as a byproduct of a process called ethoxylation which is used in the manufacturing of many personal care products like hair conditioners, cosmetics, shampoos, and shower gels. The ethoxylation process is used to make chemical ingredients used in these products, more soluble in water.
While the FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they reach your local vendor, it does rely on the efficacy of the brand providing the product to ensure their product is safe for the consumer.
The EPA has indicated that ethylene oxide has “caused irritation of the skin and eyes in humans,” so it is important to scan personal care product labels for this ingredient.
Dangers of Ethylene Oxide in Beauty Products
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advising people not to use products containing ethylene oxide because it is classified as a probable human carcinogen.
The impact on your health depends on how much ethylene oxide you are exposed to and how long you are exposed to it. If you are exposed to a lot of ethylene oxide you could experience symptoms like headaches, dizziness, weakness and eye irritation. People who have asthma may also get more wheeze attacks after being exposed to high amounts of ethylene oxide for several hours or days.
Is Ethylene Oxide Safe?
Many medical devices are sterilized with ethylene oxide, and for many of them, this form of sterilization is the only option available. In fact, it’s regarded as one of the safest chemicals used in hospitals today. However, more and more studies keep coming out questioning its safety.
While ethylene oxide is generally considered safe, it can be dangerous if you are exposed to it at high levels or for prolonged periods.
What Should I Do If I Have Been Exposed to Ethylene Oxide?
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that you remove yourself from the exposure site. Before departing, be sure to seek out medical attention as soon as possible; contaminated clothing should be removed and placed in a sealed plastic bag or container.
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