Ethanolamines are a family of chemicals that work as surfactants and emulsifying ingredients in personal care products and cleaning products.

Monoethanolamine, diethanolamine and triethanolamine make up the family of chemicals.

Surfactants are compounds used in an array of cleaning products for their ability to lower the surface tension of water, in essence making the molecules slipperier, so they are less likely to stick to themselves and more likely to interact with oil and grease.

Monoethanolamine is produced by treating ethylene oxide with aqueous ammonia; the reaction also produces diethanolamine and triethanolamine.

Here are some examples of what ethanolamine is used for:

  • As cleansing agents, or surfactants, in personal care products and cosmetics. In these types of products, ethanolamines help remove dirt and oil on skin by dissolving grease and blending other important ingredients. It is also frequently used in personal-care products like nail base coats and undercoats, several hair dyes and colours, mascara, hair conditioners and hair straighteners, shaving creams and bubble baths.
  • In the manufacture of detergent and textile specialties.
  • In petroleum demulsifiers and as a gas treating agent. Ethanolamines are effective solvents in removing sulfur contaminants from refinery off-gas.
  • In agrochemicals to make pesticides, where it helps increase a pesticide’s ability to dissolve in water.
  • As an emulsifier to help ingredients mix and help keep other materials from corroding.
  • In wax, polish and coating
  • As a corrosion inhibitor in steel and zinc materials used in building and construction. A corrosion inhibitor is a chemical compound that gets added to either a liquid or a gas in order to decrease the rate of corrosion of a material, typically a metal or an alloy, that comes into contact with the fluid.
  • In cement additives, cutting oils and photographic film developers. Ethanolamines help separate oil from water and other substances and in cement additives, Ethanolamine helps advance setting and/or hardening of cement.
  • As a dispersant for dyes, casein, shellac and rubber latex.

Is Ethanolamine toxic?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an independent expert scientific panel, has examined the safety of ethanolamine in detail as it is utilised extensively in personal care products and cosmetics. The CIR Expert Panel found that these ingredients are safe in the present practices of use and concentrations (rinse-off products only) when formulated to be non-irritating.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also includes ethanolamines on its list of allowed indirect food additives. These ingredients may be used in adhesives that come into contact with food and to assist in the washing or peeling of fruits and vegetables.

Here are some tips on how to handle possible ethanolamine toxicity:

  1. Immediately remove all contaminated articles of clothing.
  2. Following inhalation, provide fresh air as soon as possible. In all cases where you are in doubt, or if symptoms persist, seek immediate medical advice.
  3. Following skin contact, after contact with skin, wash the affected area immediately with plenty of water. Immediate medical treatment is required because corrosive injuries that are not treated are difficult to cure.
  4. Following eye contact, you should flush your eyes immediately with plenty of flowing water for 10 to 15 minutes holding your eyelids apart. Immediately consult an ophthalmologist and be sure to protect the uninjured eye.

In all situations of exposure, where you believe your health is compromised, immediately contact your medical care professional.

Chemtoll Chemical Toll Manufacturers is a Cape Town based Level 1 BBBE and ISO 9001 accredited expert in the supply and manufacturing of bulk chemicals including ethanolamine. As your trusted partner in bulk chemical manufacturing, Chemtoll is the perfect toll manufacturer for your needs. We will help you to not only produce a quality product, but also to perfect your recipes and formulas. Contact us on +27 21 842 2963 for a need’s analysis, a comprehensive quote, or for more information on ethanolamine or the other products we offer.