What Is Quaternium-15? How to Avoid this Harmful Ingredient - Public Goods Blog

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What Is Quaternium-15? How to Avoid this Harmful Ingredient

Today, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of what they are putting in and on their bodies – and for good reason.

pink makeup and makeup brush

It seems there are more and more ingredients to be concerned about as we learn new facts about what is in our skincare products and our cosmetics. One of the ingredients in question is quaternium-15. We know what you’re thinking: What is quaternium-15?

Quaternium-15 is a chemical agent that’s found in many personal care products, but there’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding the safety of the ingredient. If you have sensitive skin or think you may be prone to a quaternium-15 allergy, listen up. Here’s what you need to know about this ingredient.

What is Quaternium-15?

Chemically speaking, quaternium-15 is a quaternary ammonium salt that acts as a formaldehyde releaser, according to Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of Freelance Formulations.

Now, we know that sounds pretty intense – so what is quaternium-15 used for? Basically, it has two main purposes.

First off, quaternium-15 is used as a preservative in cosmetics and skincare products. You may also find quaternium-15 in laundry detergent.

Second, it’s used as a surfactant. Surfactants allow the increase of spreading, which results in a more even distribution and penetration of the product, says Thomas.

Where is Quaternium-15 Found?

three make up brushes, cosmetics

This chemical is likely in many of the personal care products that you already use on a daily basis and you might not even realize it.

Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells us that you may find quaternium-15 listed as a preservative in the following products:

  • Face makeup such as powders, concealers, foundations, and blush
  • Eyeliners and eye shadows
  • Mascara
  • Shampoos, soaps, and cleansers
  • Makeup removers
  • Moisturizers and lotions
  • Shaving cream
  • Sunscreens

However, this is not an exhaustive list. Quaternium-15 may be lurking in other household products that you use outside of the personal care realm. You’ll have to check the labels to be sure.

Is Quaternium-15 Harmful?

While this chemical agent is used in many different products, it may not be totally safe. Dr. King says that quaternium is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis and rash caused by an irritant.

Due to quaternium 15 allergy risk and the fact that it is a formaldehyde releaser, this chemical is a bit controversial. Especially as of late, people are paying a lot more attention to what ingredients are actually in their products and what they are putting on and in their bodies.

The chemical is so controversial that it is actually banned from being used in the European Union.

On top of causing a contact allergy, quaternium also has the potential to irritate the eyes, says Thomas.

Notably, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has given the ingredient a rating of high risk for allergies and immunotoxicity.

How to Avoid Quaternium-15 in Your Beauty Products

assortment of make-up

The best way to avoid quaternium-15 is to pay attention to the labels of the products you are using. Always read the ingredient list, regardless of the product, and be on the lookout for similar-sounding chemicals.

You can also be more mindful of the places that you shop and purchase your skincare and cosmetic products from. If you buy from sustainable, clean-beauty brands like Public Goods, you are less likely to encounter harmful ingredients like quaternium-15.

Public Goods has quaternium-15-free shampoo, body wash, moisturizer, and more personal care products.

To make things a little bit trickier, you might see quaternium-15 listed by a different name, or one of its derivatives. According to Thomas, a few of these alternative names to watch out for are:

  • Chloroallyl methenamine chloride
  • N-(3-Chloroallyl)hexaminium chloride
  • Methenamine 3-chloroallylochloride
  • 1-(3-Chloroallyl)-3,5,7-triaza-1-aminoadamantane chloride

Aside from cosmetics, be sure to pay attention to the ingredients in your laundry detergent, since quaternium can commonly be found in there as well. Look for quaternium free laundry detergent such as Public Goods’ laundry detergent pods and fabric sheets.

Best Practices for People with Sensitive Skin

woman face acne

Quaternium-15 isn’t the only ingredient you should be wary of if you have sensitive skin. There are a couple of categories of ingredients to avoid to keep your sensitive skin from becoming irritated.

Here are some personal care and makeup ingredients to avoid:

  • Formaldehyde releasing ingredients: In addition to quaternium, there are more ingredients that release formaldehyde. Some examples of these are bromonitropropane diol, diazolidinyl urea, and tris nitromethane, Dr. King says. These should be avoided especially if you know that your skin is sensitive to formaldehyde.
  • Parabens: A paraben is a type of preservative found in makeup and skincare products that may cause people to experience contact dermatitis. You should try to avoid any type of paraben. Parabens are common makeup ingredients to avoid.
  • Artificial dyes and fragrances: Dr. King says that dyes and fragrances may also contribute to allergic contact dermatitis in people with sensitive skin.

And always start with a patch test. Simply take a small amount of product and patch test a 1-by-1-inch spot on the back of your knee. If you have a reaction 20 minutes to an hour after patch testing, throw the whole bottle out!

How to Deal with a Skin Allergy Caused by Harsh Cosmetics

If you believe you are having a quaternium allergy, you may have to see a doctor, depending on the severity.

Thomas says the first step is to flush the area with cold water to remove the product. Then, start soothing the irritation.

Dr. King recommends using a topical corticosteroid to soothe the allergic contact dermatitis. She said a 1% over the counter hydrocortisone cream should suffice for a mild reaction, but if the reaction is more severe, you will need to see your doctor for relief, which may include a stronger corticosteroid.

Ask your doctor before using other home remedies like aloe vera, since applying other products might increase your irritation.

Quit the Quaternium Pronto

When it comes to what we are putting in or on our bodies, the more natural, the better. Even though it’s banned in Europe, the jury is still out on this chemical’s safety in the US. Why wait for legislation to catch up with public health? Take the first steps toward a healthier future today.

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