Should You Be Concerned About Triethanolamine In Skin Care Products?

Written by Ramona Sinha

If you have ever read the ingredient list closely on your skin products, chances are you have come across the name triethanolamine listed more than once. While it is a good habit to be aware of what goes on your skin, sometimes, researching on your ingredient list can lead to unnecessary and incorrect information, leading to unwarranted fears.

Triethanolamine (TEA) is an emulsion stabilizer and pH balancer, commonly used as an “inactive ingredient” in products. However, it has often been questioned for its safety concerns for the skin. Keep reading to find out if you should be concerned about this ingredient in your products.

What Is Triethanolamine?

Triethanolamine (TEA) is a tertiary amino compound and triol (a compound containing three hydroxyl groups). It is a colorless, oily liquid, denser than water, and smells slightly like ammonia as it has nitrogen in the center.

Triethanolamine is commonly used in cosmetic products as a pH adjusting agent, emulsion stabilizer, and surfactant. You can see this ingredient in foundations, lotions, creams, serums, cleansers, and sunscreens. There is an ongoing controversy about whether TEA poses a threat to the skin or not. Let’s find out in the next section.

Is Triethanolamine Safe For Your Skin?

Yes, triethanolamine is considered safe for use in both skin and hair care products. Many concerns are raised on triethanolamine’s toxicity and its safety as a skin care ingredient. These concerns stem from the fact that triethanolamine results from a reaction of ammonia with N-nitrosating ingredients to create nitrosamines, which were thought to be carcinogens.

However, the levels of N-nitrosating ingredients in skin care products are highly regulated, so the interaction of the two ingredients to form carcinogenic compounds is relatively low. Also, most of the products must comply with the guidelines set by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, which bars the use of TEA in any products in which N-nitroso compounds can form. The panel concluded that TEA and TEA-related ingredients are safe when formulated to be non-irritating to the skin.

Hence, you need not panic and banish all TEA-containing products from your skin care regimen. This ingredient does not have any skin benefits. However, it can help improve the efficiency of the cosmetic formulations of the products.

What Are The Benefits Of Triethanolamine?

Here are some benefits of using triethanolamine in cosmetics

1. Balances The pH Levels

One of the most important uses of triethanolamine is balancing the pH of cosmetic formulations. It is known to neutralize higher and lower pH and reduce the acidity and alkalinity of any product. Products with neutral pH levels do not irritate the skin.

2. Excellent Emulsifier

Triethanolamine is also said to help in the emulsification of various ingredients, which is one of the primary reasons it is used in creams and other product formulations.

Emulsification is the process of mixing two immiscible liquids, mostly an oil and non-oil liquid, to form a more homogenous product. For this process, you need a chemical that helps in the process by holding both molecules together.

Triethanolamine can aid this process and prevent oils and other liquids from separating, giving the product an even consistency.

3. Thickening Agent

Another reason you find triethanolamine in lotions and creams is its benefit as a thickening agent. Many formulations (like creams and conditioners) require thickeners to get the ideal consistency.

While choosing products that contain triethanolamine, you may have questioned the possible side effects of this ingredient. Read on to know if there are any negative effects you should be concerned about.

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Triethanolamine?

Triethanolamine is safe for the skin and does not have any side effects, as most products keep its concentration between 1% and 3%. At this concentration, triethanolamine is safe for skin application and does not lead to irritation of the skin or any other side effects.

It can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation when used above 5% in cosmetic products. However, the irritation can go away once you discontinue using the product.

So far, there is no evidence of any other long-term side effects of triethanolamine.

Triethanolamine is not an ingredient you must be actively looking for in skin care products. However, many skin formulations can benefit from its stabilizing properties.

Best Products With Triethanolamine

Here are some skin products with triethanolamine that are known for great results on your skin.

1. Avene Eau Thermale Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream

The Avene Eau Thermale Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream is specially developed for sensitive and dry skin. It is a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free formulation suitable for almost everyone. The non-greasy formula of the product makes it comfortable to wear and protects the skin’s natural microbiome.

2. Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with Sunscreen

This popular oil-absorbing moisturizer by Differin doubles as a sunscreen and has broad-spectrum SPF 30. Its lightweight formula does not irritate or clog your skin pores. This product is oil-free, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free, making it fit for most skin types.

Closing Thoughts

Triethanolamine is a safe ingredient to have in your skin care products. It works as an efficient surfactant and stabilizer in the cosmetic formula, providing you with an overall superior product. Triethanolamine does not have any specific skin benefit, and there is no evidence of triethanolamine toxicity in people. Hence, if you are using products with TEA without any skin issues, you can continue using them.


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Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.