Essential Replaces EDTA in Cosmetic Formulations

Written by: | | 15 responses

EDTA, a common ingredient found in skin and hair care products, is an effective chelating agent, binding to metal ions making emulsions more stable and allowing washes and soaps to develop that thick, rich lather we love. EDTA also helps boost preservative effectiveness making it a standard choice for cosmetic formulators. However, as consumers are increasingly aware of ingredients in their products, and using the internet to research ingredients, they are choosing more environmentally friendly options. Suppliers and manufacturers are responding by creating alternatives that address consumer concerns.

What’s the Problem with EDTA?

If searching online for information about EDTA, one could easily become confused by an overwhelming amount of often conflicting information. To put this in context – Have you ever tried to diagnose the cause of a cough online? If so, it’s easy to follow the most negative information down the rabbit hole until you’ve convinced yourself you have lung cancer when in fact, all you have is a common cold.

The FDA says EDTA is safe to use in cosmetics and food products. The CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) Expert Panel determined that EDTA is not well absorbed through the skin. Therefore, dermal exposures to EDTA from the use of cosmetics and personal care products would result in very little skin penetration and systemic levels well below those shown to produce adverse effects in oral studies. In fact, it’s been used in cosmetic formulations since the 1930’s. It’s even sold as a dietary supplement and recommended by the World Health Organization as the preferred method in chelation therapy for heavy metal poisoning. Regarding toxicity, EDTA, with an LD50 (the lethal dose at which 50% of test subjects die) of 2 grams per kilogram in mice, is far less toxic than other common items consumed daily, for example, caffeine. On the other hand, you can also find information such as laboratory studies where EDTA in close to lethal dosage has been found to be toxic to cells and toxic to genetic information. Much like the example of self-diagnosed lung cancer using the internet, unless you have a background that would help put the information available in context, it’s easy to conclude that EDTA is harmful. Much like trying to determine the cause of illness online, it’s easy to overstate the actual danger. (See below for sources)

Consumers are also increasingly concerned about the biodegradability of EDTA. Made from common organic molecules ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and cyanide EDTA is technically considered biodegradable. However, the rate of degradation is extremely slow and varies greatly with the bacterial population in the ecosystem. There is also debate about whether EDTA is a persistent organic pollutant.

Regardless of whether or not the internet agrees EDTA is safe, one thing is clear, consumers do not want to see it in their products and are demanding better alternatives. Due to increasing demand and our commitment to sustainability and reducing our environmental impact, Essential will begin removing EDTA from stock products and replacing it with Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. Private Label customers can choose to continue using EDTA or switch to Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate.

What is Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate?

Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate is a multi-purpose, clear, liquid chelating agent and preservative booster. A major advantage of Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate is its excellent properties regarding human toxicity and environmental impact. Based on Monosodium L-glutamate, a natural and renewable raw material produced by biochemical conversion of vegetable material, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate is readily biodegradable, with high solubility over a wide pH range. Compared to EDTA, it demonstrates enhanced preservative boosting power, and it is not toxic to cells or genetic material. Because it is produced from vegetable matter, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate is easily biodegradable and easily consumed by micro-organisms. Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate serves the same function in formulations as EDTA, more effectively, without the health and environmental concerns.

What Effect Does this Change Have on Ingredient Decks?

The FDA requires manufacturers to update ingredient decks immediately to include any ingredient changes as they occur. Don’t panic; this requirement is only for manufacturers. If you have already printed labels with EDTA on the ingredient deck, the FDA states that you can still use those labels until you run out. When you order new labels, they must include the updated ingredients.

Essential has already replaced EDTA with Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate in two products; Herbal Crème, and Wild Oats and Honey Masque. We will continue to remove EDTA from stock products, and you will see these changes both on the website and on the ingredient decks as they happen. It will take us some time to work through switching from EDTA in the stock products Essential makes. We will be sending notices to all customers via E-mail, as EDTA is replaced in products they have purchased in the past.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions. You can comment with your questions directly on this blog or contact us at or (866)-252-9639


[2] WHO (World Health Organization)  Model List of Essential Medicines 19th List (April 2015) (Amended November 2015)
[3] American Chemical Society – Biogeochemistry of Chelating Agents
Chapter 8, pp 150–170

Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-2005-0910.ch008
ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 910
ISBN13: 9780841238978eISBN: 9780841220287
Publication Date (Print): July 21, 2005
[4] Frank, R; Rau, H (1989). “Photochemical transformation in aqueous solution and possible environmental fate of Ethylenediaminetetraacetatic acid (EDTA)”.
Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

Since MSG in food causes a high rate of allergic reactions, I’m wondering about the effect of this new chelator that has a similar chemical composition. Any thoughts about this?

5 years ago

Not being critical (and we are good customers in wholesale for our private label customers )or an overt purist; but why do you use TEA in things like your aloe gel or shave jelly,etc.? It really isn’t a good ingredient and I find it in many ‘cheap’ over the counter products due to it’s inexpensive cost. I am also a cosmetic chemist too.

Also, we have constant problems getting to your site to order,etc.If we keep at it we finally get it at some point, but why do we have to do that? I have spent thousands on our office computers and we get ALL OTHER company websites with ease. NO problem. Even my ipad can’t get on to your site many times. Please do something!

5 years ago

Something I’ve found very frustrating is recently you decided to tell us you’ve been putting alcohol in your products all these years and me not knowing any better, I’ve been telling my customers no alcohol in my products. Nows we’ve got an issue with EDTA after many years of using. What next? My customers are going to run from me plus I pay to have professional labels done and now I have to throw my old labels away. Bummer!

5 years ago

I’m glad to see this! I know my customers will be happy!
Now if you could take Phenoxyethanol I’d be thrilled!

5 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl

What do you think is wrong with Phenoxyethanol please? It is one of the mildest preservatives, very effective and even accepted in Japan. It is easy to use, keeps emulsions stable and you can use it over a wide range of ph. I don’t rate all those “natural” preservatives at all. They are not effective, most are not broad spectrum and many cause allergic skin reactions.

5 years ago

I am hoping you will be making this replacement in your Pumpkin Mask as well. Do you know if that is so?

5 years ago

Great that you are reformulating with an EDTA replacent. Alcohol free would be great too but we love your products.

5 years ago

Great Job EWL, progressive companies change with the times and market. Also not all alcohol is bad for the skin and hair. Nice work!!!

5 years ago

Thank you for your commitment in purity. I’ve been using your products for myself and my clients for many years and I have noticed a significant price hike in some products, specifically the setting spritz. I was paying around 15 a gallon and now it’s over 30? Why is that?

Clare Chiang
3 years ago

Below is the feedback from my customer about Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, please help comments that. Thanks.

The ingredients to say ‘no’ to:


Chelating agents are classified as skin irritants so if you have sensitive skin you are quite likely to react to them. They help to inactivate metallic ions (impurities) to prevent the deterioration of cosmetic products. These metallic impurities are quite common in naturally derived ingredients. If they are not deactivated they can discolour, reduce clarity of a shampoo or toner, make the cream go rancid, affect the fragrance and can even affect the stability of the foam in a cleansing product. How to spot them on the label: EDTA (synthetic) and Sodium Phytate, Phytic Acid, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. Try to avoid them if you can. As a formulator I advise not to use them and only work with the purest ingredients. Even the water I use is medicinal grade water!


3 years ago
Reply to  Clare Chiang

Chelating agents bind up trace metal ion contaminants in water-containing cosmetic thus keeping the product microbe free for longer. They are not preservatives in their own right, they just help to kill microbes by starving them. They bind with metal ions (mostly calcium and iron ions) and keep them from being reactive with various ingredients. These metal ions can precipitate into products, forming a metallic solid that is undesirable. We use de-ionized water, so this issue is not really a big one, just need to be on the safe side with natural preservatives as they are not always broad spectrum. We know that auto-oxidation with metals in oils and water can promote rancidity, so adding a chelator to products will bind those metals to the chelator and slow down the oxidation process. On top of that, chelators can behave as an auxiliary preservative to kill off microbes. You have probably read that there is a chance that microbes can adapt to preservatives, so chelators disrupt the outer lipid layer of the microbe (where stability is calcium and magnesium ion dependent), thusly increasing the penetration of other anti-microbial preservatives into the bacterial cell. Here at EWL, because our products will be opened and decanted multiple times (since our customers buy for Private label), we need our products to be safe (robust), so we use a chelator.

I hope that helps. Let me know if it isn’t enough and maybe we can go into further explanation. Please note that the amount of unsafe cosmetics has grown in the last few years and these are mainly ones that are reported to the FDA directly from the end user. . . not something that happens often