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!