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Alkylphenols ethoxylates (APEs) are synthetic surfactants used in some detergents and cleaning products. APEs are made from and break down into alkylphenols, which are used as antioxidants in plastics and rubber products. APES and/or other alkyphenol derivatives are also used in pesticides, lube oil, hair dyes and other hair care products, and as nonoxynol-9 in spermicides. The most common APEs are nonylphenol ethoxylates. Two alkyphenols, nonylphenol and octylphenol, are suspected hormone disruptors.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has warned that personal care products made with ethoxylated surfactants (identified by the suffix "-oxynol") may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen that readily penetrates the skin. It can be removed during the manufacturing process, but it is unclear whether this is done by manufacturers. Alkylphenols and APEs have not been evaluated for carcinogenicity by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or the United States National Toxicology Program. Some alkylphenols can mimic the hormone, estrogen. Exposure could potentially disrupt the body’s natural hormone signals that regulate reproduction and development. Nonylphenol and octylphenol have been found to cause estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells to multiply in a test tube, and animal studies have found smaller testicles and decreased sperm counts in rats whose mothers were exposed to octylphenol in the womb. Alkylphenols may disrupt the immune system.


Breast Cancer Fund. (2010). Clear Science: Alkylphenols. Breast Cancer Fund. Retrieved from http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/chemicals-glossary/alkylphenols.html

National Toxicology Program. (2010, October). CAS Registry Number: 89-72-5 Toxicity Effects (o-sec-Butylphenol). National Library of Medicine’s Hazardous Substance Database. Retrieved from http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/index.cfm?objectid=E883F5FF-BDB5-82F8-F575737735C2856B

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