Triethanolamine, or TEA, is an ingredient commonly found in many ethnic hair care products such as hair gels, serums, creams, and leave-in conditioners.
It is mostly found in hair gels and creams because its thick and sticky consistency strengthens the hold of the product as well as thickens an otherwise watery substance. Using triethanolamine as an ingredient can help neutralize the pH in a cosmetic formula that is too acidic and helps liquid and oil ingredients blend together-making it a popular choice by chemists.
Triethanolamine has somewhat of a bad rap because it has been speculated that it can cause the formation of nitrosamines, or carcinogenic compounds. It is also said to be extremely toxic in concentration and that cosmetic grade triethanolamine should not exceed 5%.
However, the facts about TEA are often misunderstood and many do not read about the compound in depth- causing confusion and fear of buying products with TEA as an ingredient.
Though there are many interesting (and even scary!) facts about TEA, there are a few things you should know before you consider using or abandoning the products forever. Below are a few misconceptions and facts about TEA that may change your mind.
Recognizing and safely using TEA
Triethanolamine (Tris(2-hydroxyethyl)amine) is a chemical compound that is both an amine and triol, meaning it is a molecule with two alcohol groups. It is a viscid, colorless, ammonia-smelling liquid that is water soluble. Created by the reaction of ammonia and ethylene oxide, TEA has a considerable amount of alcohol-causing concern for those who worry about products drying out their hair.
Personally, I have no problem with a small amount of alcohol in my hair products because I find that the drying and flaking problem can be solved by mixing a light oil into my hair gel or cream. However, if you are prone to frizz and hair thinning, I would stay away from products that have TEA as an ingredient if it is not mixed with oils* or natural additives.
The FDA has stated that triethanolamine is safe for cosmetic use; however, it should not be used for a long period of time and needs to be rinsed off your skin and out of your hair daily. It also should not be used in concentrations above 5%, but this should not be a concern because almost all of cosmetic grade TEA is below 5%.
Because triethanolamine is a skin irritant, you need to thoroughly rinse any products containing it from your face and scalp within 24 hours of using it.