Quaternary Ammonium Compounds Toxic to Cell Mitochondria and Interfere with Estrogen

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

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)

behentrimonium methosulfate

alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride

dialkyldimethylammonium chloride

pyrvinium pamoate

cetylpyridinum chloride

benzalkonium chloride

benzethonium chloride

methylbenzethonium chloride

acriflavinuium hydrochloride

stearalkonium chloride

behentrimonium methosulfate

distearyldimethylammonium chloride

diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride

chlormequat chloride


behentrimonium chloride




tetrabuylammonium hydroxide

cetrimonium chloride

cetrimonium bromide

benzyltrimethylammonium hydroxide

benzyltrimethylammonium fluoride

benzoxonium chloride

behentrimonium chloride

vegetable oil quaternary

cetalkonium chloride

guar hydroxyproplytrimonium chlroide



centrimonium chloride

stearamodopropyl dimethylamine

cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed rice protein

16th Jan 2019 Stephanie Greenwood

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