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What is MEA?
Simply Organic: Monoethanolamine, also called 2-aminoethanol or Etnolamine (often abbreviated as ETA or MEA), is an organic-based, non-toxic compound that is both a primary amine (due to an amino group in its molecule) and a primary alcohol (due to a hydroxyl group) [1]. Like other amines, monoetnolamine acts as a weak base. If not reacted with an acid like Hydrogen Peroxide to lower the pH level [2], some forms of Ethanolamine are toxic, flammable, corrosive, and colorless with an odor similar to that of ammonia.
However, in hair colors, Ethanolamine is reacted with the acid Peroxide and can be combined with other ingredients to eliminate the odor and substantially neutralize the toxicity, corrosiveness, or odor [3]. Ethanolamine is not a dangerous chemical in low exposure limits and if not reacted with Ethylene Oxide (C2H4O). In fact, the only effects that have been determined are mild skin irritation only if Ethanolamine is applied directly to the skin in a pure form and allowed to sit for periods of time more than 1.5 hours [4]. Because Ethanolamine has a high alkalinity, this chemical will cause a burning sensation if directly ingested but only in its pure form[5].
Is MEA “organic” and/or “good” for you?
Simply Organic: No. MEA is “organic” as in “organic chemistry” but not as in a way that complies with organic food standards set by national governments and international organizations. MEA is a chemical in the Alkanolamines family.
[1] Le Coz CJ, Schneider GA. Contact dermatitis from tertiary-butylhydroquinone in a hair dye, with cross-sensitivity to BHA and BHT. Contact Dermatitis 1998

[2] Kligman AM. The identification of contact allergens by human assay. II. Factors influencing the induction and measurement of allergic contact dermatitis. J. Invest Dermatol. 1966

[3] Bowling JC, Scarisbrick J, Warin AP, Downs AM. Allergic contact dermatitis from trideceth-2-carboxamide monoethanolamine (MEA) in a hair dye. Contact Dermatitis 2002

[4] Hathaway GJ, Proctor NH, Hughes JP, and Fischman ML [1991]. Proctor and Hughes’ chemical hazards of the workplace. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

[5] Gosselin RE, Smith RP, Hodge HC [1984]. Clinical toxicology of commercial products. 5th ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

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