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This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient: Behentrimonium Chloride

What it is: A cleaning/conditioning agent (known in technical terms as a “cationic quaternary ammonium compound”) made from colza oil obtained from the seeds of Brassica rapa, var. oleifera (oilseed turnip).

What it does: Conditions, detangles, fights static, softens, restores, and rebuilds damaged hair. Since it’s plant-based and not petrochemical-based, it doesn’t coat but penetrates the hair shaft for potent conditioning effects. (In some applications, it also acts as a preservative).

Why we use it: Not only is this particular conditioning agent plant-based and especially effective at doing its job, it’s also Whole Foods Premium Body Care approved. And, their standards, developed by a team of scientists over the course of years, are some of the strictest available. If they give it a thumbs-up, we do, too.

What some people say about it: The Internet provides a wealth of information for today’s consumers, but it also provides a wealth of misinformation. And, often times the myths spread like a virus and while you see the same claim repeated all over the place, you can’t find who originally said it or what the actual evidence was. It’s like a modern version of the game Telephone. That said, here are some inaccurate claims we found about behentrimonium chloride.

  • Myth #1: Behentrimonium chloride is a toxic compound, and concentrations of .1% and higher have been shown to damage the eyes by causing tissue death of the mucous membranes.

    Fact: We were unable to find any evidence of this claim in a search of the scientific literature. There are many studies examining potential impacts on the eyes, but nothing mentions tissue death.

  • Myth #2: Behentrimonium chloride is highly flammable, irritating to the skin and can cause an increased risk of cancer, nerve damage, anemia, and disintegration of the kidneys.

    Fact: Again, we were unable to find anything remotely supportive of this claim in the scientific literature (except skin irritation). Where do people come up with this stuff? We’re assuming maybe this claim stems from behentrimonium chloride being a quaternary ammonium compound (aka “quat”) which leads to myth #3…

  • Myth #3: Since behentrimonium chloride is a “quat,” it has all of the same risks as other quats.

    Fact: Quats are an entire class of chemicals and each individual one has unique properties and risks. Just because one (or several) are flammable or linked to cancer or anything else, does not mean ALL of them do.

  • Myth #4: The EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety recommends that based on the skin reactions and toxicity seen in studies, that concentrations of behentrimonium chloride shouldn’t exceed 3% in a rinse-off product, and should be no more than .5% in a leave-on product.

    Fact: The report actually states, “The SCCS is of the opinion that the use of behentrimonium chloride does not pose a risk to the health of the consumer under the following concentration limits: Rinse-off hair care products up to 5.0% & Leave on hair care and facial cream products up to 3.0%.” Honest products happily fall within the stricter safety standards of the EU.

In all honesty, test results show potential eye and skin impacts, but only at concentrations higher than most manufacturers use (and much higher than Honest uses). At the level in Honest products, it could sting your eyes, but there’s nothing to worry about in regards to long-term or chronic toxicity.

Do you have any evidence to the contrary? Let us know! We’re always happy to review new studies and to help our community understand the findings. Together we can make it better!

References:

U.S. Cosmetics Ingredient Review

EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety

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  • http://bfellicious.wordpress.com/ Felien Geldhof

    I did some research in my chemistry books and on the web. And it seems to be a safe chemical. But I do have a question even though you don’t use high concentrations in your products: ewg.org mentions that it is ‘suspected’ to be an environmental toxin. I suppose this goes for high concentrations only? Did you maybe find more information about that statement? The only info I found was that it acts as an algaecide in industrial water treatment…
    Thanks for the overview of this chemical. Love this kind of information.

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Since behentrimonium chloride is a common component of waste water, it’s environmental fate and impacts are being monitored, but to-date, there’s not much in the scientific literature regarding it’s full life-cycle. We tend to assume that if it’s safe for us, it’s a better option environmentally, as well. Understandably, that’s a pretty simplistic approach, but it’s what we can do given our current capacity (and the general state of science). As you likely know, we’re always trying to do better and make improvements based on the latest scientific discoveries. If you find anything credible, please let us know!

  • Mei

    V true! Lots of ‘scares’ but look closely only for v high concentration #chemical

  • http://www.brambleberry.com/ Anne-Marie

    Thank you for doing the research and doing the myth busting. On the internet, you often find circular reasoning (this blog cites another blog that cites another blog that cites the original blog) with no original source.

  • madmaeve

    I have to say, I find your assessment technique disappointing. I fully admit that I am not all familiar with Behentrimonium Chloride, but when I look for safety analysis, I’m looking for proof that it IS SAFE, not the ABSENCE of proof that it is harmful. This is a terribly common tactic used by the cosmetic, chemical, industrial aricultural, et al. companies, and is not at all reassuring to informed consumers. Just sayin’.

    ‘Absence of evidence IS NOT evidence of absence.’

    • http://blog.honest.com/ Honest

      Behentrimonium chloride actually has a large body of evidence demonstrating safety. Check out the two links referenced above to access reports compiling and assessing the results from many of the most significant ones. And please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any other questions or concerns!

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  • Carmen

    I would think that if there are questions about the safety of using Behentrimonium Chloride that Honest Company would remove that ingredient from the conditioner. I know that you have posted 2 links indicating the chemical is safe. But customers may still have doubts that the chemical is safe. In that situation, wouldn’t it be to the best interest of Honest Company to just remove the ingredient from the conditioner? I know that I won’t be using the conditioner unless I know all the ingredients are safe. Is there another ingredient (maybe an organic one) that you can use in place of Behentrimonium Chloride?

  • Vince

    I did my own research and followed up on the claims that Honest has maid and they have, sadly as I am now discovering, one of the few items on the market that is as safe as you’ll get. I am only now discovering that most chemicals in the US are not regulated and that other, way more expensive brands are actually dumping a bunch of bad stuff in their products. So for that, I applaud Honest. They managed to develop products that actually work AND are safe to use.

    What I really enjoy though, is when a company sticks up for their products and explains why they put X,Y and Z into the mix. For this, I am truly grateful and of course for giving the customers the ability to give feedback WITHOUT censorship.

    So, as many others who have followed up on BEHENTRIMONIUM CHLORIDE, I am here to say, as an independent, private and concerned citizen that it is safe to use. On top of that, Honest uses only quality ingredients, so you’re sure to get a safe to use product. Again, I was not paid or urged to comment, but I just chose to do so by myself, because I just went through an hour of research on this..

    Thank you, Honest.

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