EDTA is the contracted name for ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid. Other names are edetic acid, celon ATH, celon A, EDTA acid, cheelox BF acid, edathamil, complexon II, and chemcolox 340. It’s synthesized from ethylenediamine, cyanide salts and formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical (see diazolidinyl urea). Some EDTA salts are calcium disodium EDTA, dipotassium EDTA, tripotassium EDTA, disodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, and diammonium EDTA.

EDTA salts function as a six-tooth ligand and synthetic chelating agent. In other words, they’ve got claw-like properties that enable them to grasp, hold onto and form complexes with metals like sodium, calcium, iron, aluminum, chromium, mercury, lead, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, cobalt and nickel rendering them inactive. Their binding activity helps prevent the accumulation of heavy metals on your skin, hair, or scalp.

They’re are included in antiperspirants, shampoos, hair dyes, hair bleaches, moisturizers, conditioners, and many personal care products as preservatives to suppress microbial activity, prevent deterioration, and block the production of fetid odor. They also function as purifying and stabilizing agents.

EDTA salts have several other applications. They’re used in medicine as sequestering or ‘detoxifying’ agents to remove heavy metals from the body. They also function as anticoagulants in blood analysis. It’s believed they can be used to remove plaque from arteries in alternative medicine. They’re added to foods and beverages to enable them keep their flavor, color, and desired appeal. Industrial cleaners use them to dissolve limestone.

Exposure to EDTA salts is mainly through ingestion and inhalation. They have a hard time passing through the skin surface. But this is no comforting news given that they tend to disrupt the skin’s protective surface and act as penetration enhancers, transporting unwanted chemicals from the product you’re using and from the environment across the skin and into the bloodstream. .

EDTA salts can irritate your skin, lungs, and eyes. By acting as penetration enhancers and transportation agents, they can contribute to rendering your organs toxic. They can destroy living cells (cytotoxic) as well as damage DNA and genetic information (genotoxic), which may lead to cancer. They can cause developmental and reproductive effects. Life-threating side effects can ensue from ingestion or introduction into the body, the most serious being kidney damage and failure. Other health concerns are low blood pressure, insulin shock, blood clots in the veins, anemia, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, low blood pressure, aching joints, and lower levels of blood magnesium.

EDTA salts are of notable environmental concern because they aren’t degradable. They accumulate in many natural waters and wastewater effluents. Elevated concentrations suppress algae growth and are toxic to bacteria due to their ability to chelate or extract metals from their external membranes.