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* A PEG used as a surfactant

* Please read TIA’s article on What Is It: PEGs


Trideceth-12 is is the the polyethylene glycol (PEG) ether of tridecyl alcohol, with 12 units of ethylene oxide in the molecule (; it is sometimes derived from vegetable oil. It is seen in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products as both a surfactant, and is known to prevent the build-up of silicones, or counteract other products that build up in hair. Therefore, it is most often found in shampoos, conditioners, and other hair care products (NCCosmetics).

PEGs are controversial ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products, in part because of their ability to penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body, or assist other chemicals and ingredients in absorption. According to research, lower molecular weight PEG ingredients were minimally absorbed and higher molecular weight PEGs (PEG-75 and greater) were not absorbed through intact skin. Therefore, Trideceth-12 may be absorbed through the skin due to its low molecular weight of 12.

Despite the many fears regarding PEGs, they are seen as an ingredient in a large number of products because of their diverse properties. In a study published in the Toxicology journal in 2005, entitled "Safety assessment on polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and their derivatives as used in cosmetic products," it was concluded that: "Taking into consideration all available information from related compounds, as well as the mode and mechanism of action, no safety concern with regard to these endpoints could be identified. Based on the available data it is therefore concluded that PEGs of a wide molecular weight range (200 to over 10,000), their ethers (laureths, ceteths, ceteareths, steareths, and oleths), and fatty acid esters (laurates, dilaurates, stearates, distearates) are safe for use in cosmetics."

PEGs are not considered to be irritants or sensitizers, but should not be used on broken skin. Trideceth-12 is FDA approved as an indirect food additive

Safety Measures/Side Effects:

The Cosmetics Database finds Trideceth-12 to be a low hazard ingredient, only noting concerns regarding organ system toxicity and irritation. The EWG does note data gaps, or a lack of information available regarding this ingredient. It is "Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful" by the Environmental Canada Domestic Substance List, and is also "Classified as medium human health priority."

According to a study published in the International Journal of Toxicology, PEGs (including Trideceth-12) can contain harmful impurities, including: Ethylene Oxide, known to increase the incidences of uterine and breast cancers and of leukemia and brain cancer, according to experimental results reported by the National Toxicology Program; 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen; PAHs, known to increase the risk of breast cancer; lead; iron; and arsenic (Source).

Products and formulas containing PEGs should not be used on broken or irritated skin. Although PEGs are considered safe for use topically on healthy skin, studies showed that patients suffering from severe burns were treated with PEG-based antimicrobial cream; this treatment resulted in kidney toxicity. "The PEG content of the antimicrobial cream was determined to be the causative agent. However, no evidence of systemic toxicity occurred in studies with intact skin. Because of the observation of kidney effects in burn patients, the CIR Expert Panel qualified their conclusion on the safety of the PEG ingredients to state that cosmetic formulations containing these ingredients should not be used on damaged skin" (

Recommended Products w/ Trideceth-12:

Ookisa Hair Thickening Kit, Head Organics Hair Spray and Leave-In Conditioner
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