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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 serious or even permanent side effects. Is the same true for glucose-derived surfactants that are quite common in shampoos, soaps, and detergents?
Today, we will discuss glucoside ingredients, such as decyl glucoside and coco glucoside. They are sugar- and plant-based and serve as cleansing agents in skincare and cosmetic products as well as cleaning products. Let’s find the answer to the ultimate question: Are glucosides safe?
Glucosides – Safe Or Toxic?
To begin, glucose surfactants are a group of 19 alkyl glucosides synthesized through the condensation of long-chain fatty alcohols and glucose, extracted from renewable sources (source). Although individually they have limited safety data, based on 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 and other skincare and cosmetic products.
Furthermore, these glucose-derived surfactants are of plant-based 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 natural ingredients have no contaminants associated with petroleum.
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 glucosides for dirt and oils on dish 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.
This warning is not surprising to me. As a product manufacturer advisor for ingredient safety, I have noticed that all surfactants have irritation potential simply due to their cleansing function. Please know that the amounts of glucoside surfactants and other ingredients as well as their interaction in the product play a significant role.
In my opinion, Pure Haven has created the safest baby shampoo and wash with glucosides that should work well for babies with sensitive skin. (Pure Haven products are good for adults with extremely sensitive skin types, too.) There are no essential oils in Pure Haven baby products as they can irritate and even cause an allergic reaction. (Learn more about essential oils in my blog post Is Natural Fragrance Safe?.)
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 discovered that it is possible to develop an allergic reaction to alkyl glucosides.
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-derived surfactants. That is a pretty small number, but it shows that an allergic reaction is possible.
In the 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 glucoside or lauryl glucoside. Keep in mind that these are people who already had skincare and cosmetic-related allergic contact dermatitis. And these plant-based surfactants are very common in products we use on our bodies.
In the 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 ingredient safety advisor, 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 its alternatives.
For example, very common alternatives to glucosides are either cocamidopropyl betaine or cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine that, in my opinion, are much more concerning. Learn more about them in my blog post Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine Ingredients: Are They Safe?.
If you prefer to stay away from any surfactants, another option is to go for soap-based liquid washes or solid bars. Take a look at my Non-Toxic Soap blog post or go for this unscented Meliora soap bar.
Are Glucose-Derived 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, first, with fewer ingredients. And, second, with ingredients that you actually need, especially when it comes to sensitive skin, such as that of babies. That is why, for example, I would not use 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 glucoside
- lauryl glucoside
- decyl glucoside, and
Firstly, they make this natural ingredient by the process of condensation of caprylyl/capryl fatty alcohol with glucose. As you can see, it is a natural process where no chemicals are added to the manufacturing process. This is very different from the manufacture of cocamidopropyl betaine or cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine. These are other common surfactants that I do not prefer. (You can learn about these two, and coco betaine, in my blog post about cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine.)
This kind of glucosides is a penetrator enhancer. Scientists use it to improve the dermal penetration of insulin. 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 entire group that has shown severe irritation on animal eyes. Thus, it would not be a good surfactant for a tear-free baby shampoo. (Find out if there are numbing agents in tear-free baby shampoos.)
Caprylyl/capryl glucoside is among the Innersense Shampoo Ingredients whose review you can find on my blog.
To begin, they make this natural ingredient through the process of condensation of decyl alcohol with glucose. It is one of the most common surfactants in skincare and cosmetic products among the surfactants of this group.
Above all, it is one of the safest plant-based surfactants, is biodegradable, and does not contain petroleum contaminants. Yet, as you’ve seen from the dermatologists’ reports above, even though it is not likely to cause contact allergy, some people with sensitive skin types may have a skin reaction to it. Maybe because it is one of 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.
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.
First, they produce lauryl glucoside by the process of condensation of lauryl alcohol with glucose.
Second, as we have 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’ve mentioned above, there are recent reports of allergic contact dermatitis cases caused by lauryl and/or decyl glucoside.
Last, 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.
For starters, they also produce
it this skincare and cosmetic ingredient by the process of condensation of one of the fatty alcohols (coconut alcohol) with glucose. Just like the 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 manufacturing process 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
In Comparison To Most Surfactants In Skincare And Cosmetic Products, Glucosides Are Gentler And Safer.
To sum up, glucoside surfactants may not be 100% safe for 100% of people. But this is true for any ingredient, even a seemingly innocent avocado oil. That’s why when choosing a product or deciding on the safety of an ingredient, I believe it is very important to know the alternatives.
For me, glucoside surfactants are the safest and best. For years now, I’ve been using Pure Haven Shampoo with glucosides, and I’ve never had any inkling of itchiness or irritation. Pure Haven shampoos make my hair shine and add much needed volume. On several occasions, I’ve used soap-based shampoos, but they would leave my hair greasy and my scalp itchy. As for shampoos with cocamidopropyl betaine or cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, they would make my scalp a bit unsettled.
In addition, I think glucoside surfactants are a good choice for cleaning products. Most cleaning products I’ve seen contain ethoxylated ingredients, fragrance, and allergens. In contrast, these safe cleaning products use glucosides and are the safest non-soap cleaning products I’ve found. While I love to use soap as a body wash, I don’t use it as a cleaner because it does not work well, especially on dirt and oils. Therefore, safe cleaning products with these surfactants are the best options.
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