What are Quaternary Ammonium Compounds?
Quaternary ammonium compounds (aka "quats") are a class of more than 1500 chemicals that are used in personal care products. Many are used as antiseptic agents and preservatives, while others are used as "conditioning" agents in hair care, skin care, and fabric softener. Their positive ionic charges help them stick to hair strands and reduce static and increase "slip" on hair. These chemical coatings make the hair have the feeling that we associate with "healthy" or "moisturized."
Quats Toxic to Mitochondria
A recent study tested a number of quats and found them to be toxic to the mitochondria in cells. Mitochondria are the "engine" of our cells helping to produce energy. In the last decade, researchers have looked to mitochondrial dysfunction as an underlying cause for several health problems, including cardiac diseases, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.
Quats Interfere with Hormones
Since the building blocks of hormones are created in mitochondria, researchers have believed in recent years that mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to endocrine (hormone) disruption and imbalance. And, indeed, in this latest study, quats were found to interfere with estrogen. Every chemical they tested were both toxic to mitochondria and interfered with hormone function. A 2014 study found that exposure to quats decreased fertility in mice.
What to Look For
Quats can be hard to spot, but here are a list of commonly used chemicals:
Grapefruit Seed Extract (diphenol hydroxybenzene)
diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride
vegetable oil quaternary
guar hydroxyproplytrimonium chlroide
cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed rice protein