Just Because It Says "Organic" Doesn't Mean It Won't Give You A Ton Of Cancer

Here at the Consumerist we’re not trying to tell you that you need to buy organic soap, but if you do want organic soap… we think you should get what you’re paying for.

To that end we direct your attention to a report from the Organic Consumers Association, a consumer-advocacy group that hired a third party lab to test a variety of so-called “organic” personal care products for a particularly nasty byproduct of the soap-making process called 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the EPA because it causes cancer in lab animals. It’s the sort of thing that probably shouldn’t be in anything labeled “organic.”

The study found that products that were actually certified USDA Organic were free of the 1,4-dioxane. Others… not so much.

Some of the Leading Brands Found to Contain 1,4-Dioxane:
JASON Pure Natural & Organic
Giovanni Organic Cosmetics
Kiss My Face
Nature’s Gate Organics
365, Whole Foods House Brand
Seventh Generation

You can check out the full report (pdf) here. Seventh Generation posted a lengthy response to the study in the comments of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article in which they explained that they are trying to get rid of 1,4-dioxane:

We applaud the Organic Consumer Association’s (OCA) recent research efforts to educate consumers about the safety of personal care and home cleaning products. It is important for consumers to know that Seventh Generation’s dish liquid, which does contain a minute amount of the ethoxylate 1,4-dioxane, is deemed safe according to the FDA’s and our own strict guidelines.

We are committed to eliminating all harmful chemicals from household cleaning products. Consistent with our core mission, we have worked with surfactant manufacturers for many years to reduce levels of 1,4-dixoane in ethoxylated surfactants and it is our intent to completely eliminate 1,4-dioxane from all of our products.

The OCA research reviewed personal care products such as hand soaps and shampoos alongside household cleaning products with different usage and efficacy requirements. As noted in the Los Angeles Times on March 14, 2008, “Dishwashing liquids are particularly hard to keep free of 1,4-dioxane because they require surfactants that are powerful grease cutters.” Liquid laundry detergents also require surfactants for stain removal.

Personally, we like our dish soap to actually work, so we don’t mind a little dioxane if it gets the job done.

Popular ‘natural’ personal products fail test
[Seattle P-I]


Edit Your Comment

  1. RandoX says:

    Sure, but do they take it seriously?

  2. crackblind says:

    Both Arsenic & Hemlock are also organic.

  3. weakdome says:

    There’s soap in my soap?

  4. djanes1 says:

    Note to self: stop eating detergent.

  5. DeeJayQueue says:

    Why can’t everyone just make their own soap like in Fight Club? That’s how I do it.

  6. sleze69 says:

    I remember from my Amway days that you could drink SA-8. Perhaps the pyramid markets are best to handle this whole “organics” thing.

  7. radio1 says:

    I hate the way ‘organic’ has been co-opted to mean ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’.

    Organic in the strictest sense, simply means a compound contains carbon. That’s it.

    And the whole “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat or use it” is one that burns me too. Systemic nomenclature has been developed, so a scientist/chemist or and educated layman can discern what a compound is actually made of and also it’s structure.

    If you hazardous chemicals to be called ‘super happy fun juice’ and have no idea what it actually is, put your blinders on.

  8. @DeeJayQueue: If you’re looking for some base materials, I can give you my ex’s address. She’s stockpiling it.

  9. johnva says:

    So if this is important to you, buy only “certified organic” products. Problem solved. The USDA organic label always has a specific meaning that you can look up. Other claims…not so much, sometimes.

  10. ptkdude says:

    At least it gives you organic cancer, not that bad, non-organic cancer.

  11. smitty1123 says:

    Really, is there anything that doesn’t eventually give you cancer ?

  12. RIP MRHANDS says:

    As I understand it, the USDA terminology for and regulation of what qualifies for the USDA organic label only applies to food products.


    If the term is appearing on something that is non-food related, then its probably just a stupid marketing ploy, not a failing of the USDA regulatory procedure.

  13. sleze69 says:

    @radio1: If you hazardous chemicals to be called ‘super happy fun juice’ and have no idea what it actually is, put your blinders on.

    No need to make fun of badly translated, Japanese imports…

  14. selectman says:

    @radio1: So you’re saying you have a problem with the USDA co-opting the term? The one that describes food generally considered to be natural and more healthy? It’s not just a term – products have to actually be certified and regularly audited to maintain USDA Organic status.

  15. I feel sorry for the misinformed people who fall into the “organic” trap or have an irrational fear of GMOs. It’s getting to a ridiculous point where you’ll need a B.Sc. to make informed decisions about, groceries!

  16. savvy9999 says:

    I generally eat local & all-organic (if possible), but could give 2 craps about “organic” soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. Burt’s Bees is a total scam.

    MR Hands has it right, labeling anything that you don’t eat or drink ‘organic’ (including my favorite one, overpriced clothing) is merely marketing hype and has zero meaning in terms of healthfulness. Sure, one can grow cotton without pesticides or fertilizers, but that doesn’t make the resulting linen cloth ‘organic’, unless you plan on eating it.

    “green” and “organic” are to the 2000s what “e-” and “nano-” were to the 1990s. Worn out and abused already.

  17. timsgm1418 says:

    oh thank goodness, I was worried for a minute@ptkdude:

  18. philip_j_fry says:

    So how do these products compare to conventional products? Say, how much (if any) 1,4-dioxane is in Tide? Wikipedia incicates that the chemical is a common “contaminate [in] cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes.” I do typically go for natural products, but more so to avoid the dyes.

  19. csdiego says:

    @smitty1123: Death. Once you’ve been through it, you’re guaranteed not to get cancer.

  20. Corydon says:

    @radio1: I hate the way ‘organic’ has been co-opted to mean ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’.

    I did some organic chemistry in college, and I went through a phase where I got all huffy about the same thing. Then I realized two facts:

    1) English is sufficiently flexible for one word to have two different meanings depending on context. Moreover, the language changes as new meanings are applied to words.

    2) Organic chemistry got its name from the original assumption that organic compounds were explicitly related to biological processes. “Organic” and “organical” have been used to pertain to living beings for centuries. For a long time, the whole idea of synthesizing organic compounds was pure fantasy. In some ways, the usage under discussion may be viewed as being closer to the original usage.

  21. iankasley says:


  22. radio1 says:

    @sleze69: Well, I suppose I could have said ‘Slurm’ or that drink from Cloverfield…

    @selectman: No, I have no problem with the USDA or any agency defining ‘organic’. I do have a problem lay environmentalists who misconstrue what organic means and have no realization of what organic/industrial chemists have done to improve our lives.

    @Corydon: Dude, I understand. I have a minor in chemistry.

  23. miran says:

    As a Chemical Engineer, I did LOTS of chemistry in college. That was always the one thing that bothered me about “organic” chemistry. While biological process are, on this planet, typically carbon based; carbon based chemistry is not all biological. Carbon based chemistry is a much broader topic than organic or biological processes. I liked physical chemistry better anyway. Yeah, thermodynamics!

    While I agree the meaning; organic as a description of products without synthesized chemical additives (whatever), is closer to the original meaning. Organic doesn’t mean it wont kill you. Nature can be enough of a b$%&* without our help.

  24. forgottenpassword says:

    and this is why you should either buy wtf you want no matter wtf its made out of…. OR….. prepare on being a detective when buying & deciphering what products are actually good for the environment & yourself.

    I will just buy what I want & to hell with the consequences. Life is too short to paw thru my garbage like a raccon sorting out recyclables OR do research on what everything I buy is made of (or is made in an “environmentally conscious” way). If my soap gives me cancer… so be it! I dare you to find anything that actually is NOT bad for you in some way!

    Spin the wheel & takes your chances!

  25. MeOhMy says:



    I have to credit the Dr. Bronner reference when I see it. BTW, Dr. Bronner doesn’t have any of this garbage in the soap. WE’RE ALL ONE OR NONE! OK!

  26. trujunglist says:

    You don’t really have to paw through your garbage. It’s really simple actually; you have one bag for recycled crap and one bag for everything else. You don’t put recycle crap into the garbage bag and you don’t end up like a raccoon. Being a lazy ass isn’t a very good excuse.

  27. bkpatt says:

    “I will just buy what I want & to hell with the consequences.”

    THIS is why there should be a test prior to procreation.

  28. selectman says:

    @radio1: My point is that it sounds like you are whining about petty semantics. When ‘Lay environmentalists’ refer to the term ‘organic’ they aren’t talking about the chemical definition – they are talking about the USDA standard, which DOES in fact lend credibility toward a claim of healthiness.

  29. woertink says:

    If you look at the MSDS information
    IHL-HMN LCLO 470 ppm/3d.
    ORL-RAT LD50 7120 mg/kg.
    IPR-MUS LD50 790 mg/kg.
    ORL-CAT LD50 2000 mg kg-1
    ORL-RBT LD50 2000 mg kg-1

    the amounts needed to kill a person by inhalation is about 470 ppm all the tested products were far lower. Also these are topical cremes and what not so not much is being inhaled or orally ingested. Of course getting good chronic exposure data is difficult since it is difficult to separate out the other variables.

  30. Jaysyn was banned for: https://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:


    Burts Bee’s Hand Salve & Lip Balm is awesome.

  31. forgottenpassword says:


    Dont get me wrong, I believe in financial resposibility, but worrying about every little thing that MAY be bad for you is probbaly less healthy than if you just used the damn soap! lol

  32. Beerad says:

    @forgottenpassword: Wait a minute, do they have a raccoon that you can get that will sort your recyclables? Because I TOTALLY WANT ONE!

    And as for your philosophy that “life’s too short to care about the environment”, there’s already a term for that, “selfishness.” Have fun telling your grandkids about a time long, long ago when you could drink the water found in a river or walk on a coastal beach without wearing needleproof boots.

  33. NotATool says:

    “1) English is sufficiently flexible for one word to have two different meanings depending on context. Moreover, the language changes as new meanings are applied to words.”

    Here’s a confusing context: “organic” dry cleaners which seem to be popping up all over the place.

    Traditional dry cleaners have always used organic solvents (organic in the chemical sense). But the new dry cleaners use an environmentally-safe solvent and calling themselves “organic” — meaning “safe.”

    I find their label amusing but then I think I’m thinking about it too much…

  34. ninabi says:

    My daughter’s first research position in chemical engineering was quite an eye opener. All the PhDs would sit in the lunchroom and discuss chemical additives in food. One pulled a bottle of powdered coffee whitener from her hand, saying, “Go and find out what is carcinogenic in here and let me know during lunch tomorrow.”

    They were all eating organic. And since that time, I’ve been told by her that we don’t know much about the things we smear all over our bodies, including makeup.

    Will dish detergent kill you? No. Will non organic produce make you keel over? No. But the cumulative effects, what are they? And are such products appropriate for children and infants, with immature systems (along the lines of non organic produce being harder on their systems).

    And as a consumer, for a company to charge an arm and a leg for “organic” when it is not- well, glad they got identified. People should get what they pay for.

  35. @RIP MRHANDS: “If the term is appearing on something that is non-food related, then its probably just a stupid marketing ploy, not a failing of the USDA regulatory procedure.”

    That would be illegal, to use the USDA Organic logo on something that doesn’t fall w/in the USDA’s strict labeling guidelines. They take that stuff f’n seriously.

    (That’s why all your cereals have exactly the same words when they make their half-assed health claims — those claims are VERY strictly regulated.)

  36. randombob says:


    Awesome. Agreed.

  37. Panhandler says:

    So I have a related question: I was eating a breakfast bar the other day and it said “70% Organic!” WTF is the other 30%, Poison Frog Ass or something?

  38. KogeLiz says:

    because it’s easier to pick some up at the store for $1.00

  39. Mom2Talavera says:

    Everyone should put Organic Consumers Association on their favorites list.They are such a great resource! On a side note everyone should know that the USDA ORGANIC seal means NOTHING! The USDA has diluted the meaning/requirements for a product to get Organic certification. Please check labels for a 3rd party certifier such as Oregon tilth,Quality Assurance International or OCIA

  40. @Panhandler: For multiple ingredient foods, there are three front-of-box labels from the USDA.

    USDA 100% Organic must be made with, well, 100% organically-farmed/raised/whatever ingredients.

    USDA Organic requires that the food be made with 95%+ organic ingredients by weight.

    “Made with Organic Ingredients” can be on the front of the box for foods made with 70%+ (by weight) organic ingredients, and they can list up to three ingredients that are organic.

    Less than 70% organic ingredients can’t make any claims about organicness on the front of box, but can list those ingredients as organic on the side.

    It’s something like $11,000 per violation for mislabeling.

  41. Mr. Gunn says:

    When people have come to mistrust the government, the regulatory agencies lose power, and hucksters and frauds can feed off the mistrust.

    Organic is an OK term, but it does have to be fairly tightly controlled.

  42. dualityshift says:

    Rip Torn won’t give you cancer.

  43. azntg says:

    So that’s why they didn’t let me use dioxane as a solvent in the lab!

  44. slowinthefastlane says:

    Non-organic: possibility of dying slowly from chemicals.
    Organic: possibility of dying quickly from poo-based pathogens.

    Pick your poison. :-)

  45. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Dioxane is used to break down harsh detergents. Therefore, these products should be called detergents, and not Soap. Most products labeled as soap are in fact not soap.

    I use Doctor Bronner’s (the best soap I have ever used)which is indeed soap. (and has no Dioxane)

    To learn more about Soap Vs. Detergent, I have this handy dandy link found via BoingBoing Drugnerd has a video about the arrest of Germs drummer Don Bolles. Police searched his van earlier this year and found a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, which tested positive for the drug GHB.

    This is the incredible true story of the Germ and Soap Company that teamed up to fight drug charges. David Bronner President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps shows how natural soaps test positive for the date rape drug GHB using police field kits while detergent based fake soaps always test negative.

  46. zafner says:

    Hey, technically, isn’t cancer organic? I think it is.

  47. gamin says:

    Wow now Soap gives me cancer. In 5 years soap will be preventing cancer mark my words

  48. ankylo says:

    @bkpatt: exactly! I mean you need to take a test to be able to drive…but anyone (who is physically capable of getting pregnant and giving birth) can have babies…and look at the mess!

  49. BalknChain says:

    @Mom2Talavera: For organic ingredients where I work we use QAI. Yes, the USDA has lost a good bit of its face in recent beef issues. Focus is heavily on independent third party certifications like QAI. There are serious conflicts of interest between the USDA, FDA or other government agencies and businesses they watch. Corporations have much deeper pockets than the government and as such they have the power, unfortunately. Recalls to this day are still voluntary by the companies, not started by the agencies. The agencies can only “strongly suggest” or they battle in court over possible/potential violation of commerce laws.

  50. Tonguetied says:

    I always have to laugh when I hear the terms organic and all-natural as if those mean healthy and safe. As crackblind pointed out “Arsenic & Hemlock are also organic”, as is tobacco, opium, sugar, cocaine and I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of other things that are all bad for you.

  51. guspaz says:

    You know what else is organic? Bullshit. People who buy stuff because it’s “organic” or “all-natural” (hey, cyanide and arsenic are all-natural!) need a good slap.

  52. strathmeyer says:

    I’m five days late, but I don’t get it. 1,4-dioxane is organic. Oh, well.