Understanding Chemical Whiteners and Their Impact

Posted by Sydney Hoegy on

What are Chemical Whiteners?


You might have heard of whitening agents or optical brighteners before. There’s a reason you have heard of them - whitening agents have been around for a long time. Not sure what they are? Brighteners offset any yellowing that white products can amass with age. The white cotton or white product is dyed a fluorescent blue to give the optical illusion of appearing more white than it is and offset any yellowing. You can find whitening agents in products like laundry detergents, cosmetics, and even cotton tips. 


Impact of Chemical Whiteners


The environmental and health impact of whitening agents found in cleaning products is tracked through the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA). They are actively used in the market today because there have not been enough conclusive studies to denounce the use of these chemicals. However, their negative impacts are plentiful.




Many of the detergents that you use will have these whitening agents in them. The run-offs from the chemicals are dumped into the sewage and eventually contaminate natural waterways. The fish farmed in these waters and drinking water from these areas have had trace amounts of transferred whitening agent chemicals. As these chemicals are non-biodegradable, they can last thousands of years in the environment without breaking down. 


As mentioned, many of the studies that look at the negative implication of using whitening agencies have had inconsistent findings, so there is not enough conclusive evidence to ban these harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the negative impacts do not rule out the financial gains. 




There have been many studies that link whitening agents to skin irritations and allergies. When using products such as cotton tips in sensitive areas, it is essential to check the ingredients list. Cotton tips are commonly used in the cosmetic industry to clear makeup away from the eye and face area. 


Not only have these chemicals been linked to topical irritants, but there are studies that suggest long-term effects. Design for the Environment (DFE), an EPA partner, published an article that speaks to the toxicity and health implication of whitening agents: “Aminotriazine- or stilbene-based whiteners…may cause developmental and reproductive effects.” 


Ultimately, these chemicals can have some dire side effects even if they pass the EPA’s standards. We suggest keeping an eye out for the ingredients list on the products you purchase and avoid using anything with whitening agents in them. Many great alternatives are still affordable while excluding these chemicals. Did you know that Papilion’s Baby Buds are free of whitening agents so that you can use them guilt and worry-free?


Ingredient to Avoid


One of my favorite blogs, The Spruce, has a complete list of synonyms and trade names to look out for:


Synonyms: Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs), Optical Whiteners, Fluorescent Brightening Agents, Fluorescent Brighteners, Fluorescent Optical Brighteners, Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs), Fluorescent White Dyes, and Organic Fluorescent Dyes

Trade Names: Blankophor, Dikaphor, DMS, Intrawite (textile use), Kolocron, Optiblanc, Tinopal, Tuboblanc (textile use mostly), Uvitex.


Stay knowledgeable and stay healthy.

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