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Are Glucosides Safe?

As you know, glucose is sugar.  On the one hand, it is one of the sources of fuel for the body in the form of carbohydrates.  On the other hand, it is best in moderation – unhealthy levels can have a serious or even permanent effect.  So, is the same true for glucose-based ingredients that are quite common in shampoos, soaps, and detergents?   Today, we will discuss glucoside ingredients, which are sugar-based and serve as cleansing agents in personal care products.  Let’s find the answer to the ultimate question: Are glucosides safe?

Are Glucosides Safe? A photo of a green plant.

Some facts about glucose surfactants

To begin, they are a group of 19 surfactants with limited safety data on each individual one.  Nonetheless, looking at their chemical and usage similarities, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel (CIR) implies that it is proper to presume the same safety for the whole group.  As a result of their mildness, they are very popular and are considered generally safe surfactants.  Because they are not irritating to the eyes, they are common in baby shampoos.

Furthermore, these glucose-based ingredients are of agricultural origin, including corn, palm, potato, wheat, and coconut.  In other words, they are non-petroleum, which is great.  The manufacturing process is considered “green” because it involves natural and renewable sources.  Besides, there are no petroleum chemicals added during the process of glucoside manufacture, which is not the case with most other surfactants.  That is to say, these surfactants have no contaminants associated with petroleum. 

Are glucose surfactants toxic?

Per the CIR report, even when animals were fed with them in big doses, they did not show any abnormal health effects.  That is why I feel that it is safe to use cleaning products with them on food surfaces.

Are glucosides irritating? 

In 2013 the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reviewed the safety data on 19 alkyl glucosides and issued a report.  The Panel concluded that there is a potential for dermal irritation.   Accordingly, the Panel encourages manufacturers to formulate products to be non-irritating.  Therefore, while they are mild and gentle, they may cause irritation.  That can be especially concerning when it comes to babies.  For this reason, I recommend using a true castile soap on babies to eliminate any possible risks.

Can alkyl glucosides cause an allergic reaction?

Unlike many other surfactants, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review determined that glucoside surfactants are not allergens or sensitizers.  However, in 2013, dermatologists tested people and determined that it is possible to develop an allergic reaction to alkyl glucosides.

Belgian research

For instance, in Belgium during a 19-year period (1993-2012), 11,842 patients with suspected contact dermatitis were patch tested.  The Belgian dermatologists reported that out of 11,842 persons, 30 people (0.25%) had allergic contact dermatitis to one or more of the glucose-based surfactants.  That is a pretty small number, but it shows that an allergic reaction is possible. 

American research

In addition, US dermatologists at the Columbia University Medical Center tested 897 patients that had already been diagnosed with allergic contact dermatitis.  In 2017, they reported that out of their 897 patients, 48 patients (5%) had positive reactions to decyl or lauryl glucoside.  Keep in mind that these are people who already had cosmetic-related allergic contact dermatitis and these surfactants are very common in products we use on our bodies.

British research

Furthermore, UK dermatologists determined that out of the 2,796 patients they tested, twenty-one (1.04%) had a positive patch test reaction to at least one of the alkyl glucosides.  79.3% of patients were sensitized to multiple chemicals of this group; 21 patients (72.4%) were female.  The mean age was 43.5 years.  Twelve patients (41.4%) had a background of atopic dermatitis.  The dermatologist concluded that it is important to test patients with allergic contact dermatitis for allergy to these chemicals.

Thus, despite the assurances from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel that they are not allergens, there is evidence to the contrary.  However, as a product researcher and as a product development consultant, I understand that ingredient safety is relative.   In other words, to know exactly how safe a particular ingredient is, it is very helpful to know what the alternatives are.  Please know that I offer consultations to help you choose the best products for you and your family based on your preferences, health history, and budget.  In my Shampoo Rating List, I rated this group of surfactants at 2 (on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most toxic) versus 1 or 2 used by the EWG Skin Deep database.

Are glucose surfactants carcinogenic?

Their mutagenic potential was assessed in two tests on bacteria samples.  As a result, researchers found that they were not mutagenic.  That is to say, they do not cause genetic mutation.

As for carcinogenicity or tumor growth, per the 2013 CIR report, there have been no tests to determine that.   This is not unusual.  Most product ingredients do not have any safety data or at best are assessed only for irritation or allergenicity.  Therefore, I recommend using products with fewer ingredients and ingredients that you actually need, especially when it comes to babies.  That is why, for example, I do not recommend using Honest Shampoo and Body Wash on babies, especially as a body wash.

The most common glucosides

Now, let’s look at some of the most common glucoside surfactants.  They are caprylyl/capryl, decyl, lauryl, and coco-glucoside.

Caprylyl/capryl glucoside

Firstly, they make this surfactant by the process of condensation of caprylyl/capryl alcohol with glucose.  As you can see, it is a natural process where no chemicals are added in the manufacture.  This is very different from the manufacture of cocamidopropyl betaine or cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine.  These are other common surfactants that I do not prefer. 

This kind of glucosides is a penetrator enhancer.  Scientists use it to improve the dermal penetration of insulin (source).  This is important to know because its presence in a product can increase the absorption of other ingredients. 

In addition, according to the CIR report, this is the surfactant from the group that has shown severe irritation on animal eyes.   Thus, it would not be a good surfactant for a tear-free baby shampoo.

This surfactant is present as one of the Innersense Shampoo Ingredients whose review you can find on my blog. 

Decyl glucoside

Firstly, they make it through the process of condensation of decyl alcohol with glucose.  It is one of the most common among the surfactants of this group.

Above all, it is one of the safest surfactants, is biodegradable and does not contain petroleum contaminants.  Yet, even though it is not likely to cause contact allergy, some people may have a skin reaction to it.  Maybe because it is one the most common glucosides, it is the only one from this group that the American Contact Dermatitis Society dermatologists added to their allergen list to test for.  You can find this ingredient in Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaning Products.

And finally, the CIR report describes three tests on the eyes of animals that scientists performed to determine its ocular irritation potential.  One test found slight irritation and two tests showed no irritation at all.   That’s why it is a common surfactant in tear-free baby shampoos.

Lauryl glucoside

Firstly, they produce it by the process of condensation of lauryl alcohol with glucose. 

Secondly, as we already discussed, in 2013, the Cosmetic Ingredient Expert (CIR) Expert Panel concluded that it is not sensitizing.  But the CIR Expert Panel indicates that there is a low potential for dermal irritation, and products should be formulated to reduce risks of irritation.  As I mentioned above, there are recent reports of allergic contact dermatitis cases caused by lauryl and/or decyl glucoside. 

And finally, the CIR report describes three tests on the eyes of animals that scientists performed to determine its ocular irritation potential.  Two tests found slight irritation and one test showed no irritation.

Coco-glucoside

Firstly, they produce it by the process of condensation of coconut alcohol with glucose.  Just as other glucosides, coco-glucoside is common in baby shampoos and other shampoos because it does not strip the hair of color or oils as sulfate surfactants do.  It is gentle on the eyes. 

Secondly, since there are no bad chemicals in the manufacture of this surfactant, there are no chemical residues.  Because it is produced by a chemical reaction between glucose and a coconut oil-derived ingredient, one of the concerns is coconut allergy.  If you believe that you are allergic to coconut, you may benefit from my post The Best Safest Shampoo where you can learn more about it. 

Finally, the CIR report describes three tests on the eyes of animals that scientists performed to determine its irritation potential.  One test showed slight irritation and two tests showed no irritation.

Conclusion about the safety of glucosides

To sum up, glucoside surfactants are not as harmless as previously thought.  However, when choosing a product or deciding on the safety of an ingredient, I believe it is very important to know the alternatives.  I still think glucose surfactants belong in the “safer” category.  For over a year now, I have been using Pure Haven Shampoo that contains them, and I have never had any itchiness or irritation. 

In addition, I think that these surfactants are good choices for cleaning products.  Most cleaning products that I have seen contain ethoxylated ingredients, fragrance, and very bad allergens.  By comparison, Branch Basics makes the safest non-soap cleaning products I have found.  There are three glucose surfactants in their safe all-purpose cleaner.  While I love to use soap as a body wash, I don’t use it as a cleaner because it does not work well.  Therefore, cleaning products with these surfactants are the best options.  You can read more about Branch Basics in my Branch Basics Safe Cleaning Products review. 

Be sure to check out my Shop for other non-toxic personal care and household products.  And if you have questions about products that you use or are considering using, please gain your consumer superpower or book a consultation.

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