Chemistry Question #393

Citre, a 18 year old male from the Internet asks on June 8, 1998,

What is tocopheryl acetate? It's also called Vitamin E acetate. Is it like the chemical acetone or is it more like Vitamin E? I've noticed that the ingredients lists of many products, especially makeup, contain formaldehyde or acetone or aluminum. Others contain acetate - how is acetate like acetone? Is it likely that these products can cause cancer? How likely?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on June 8, 1998

Acetate doesn't exist by itself. It is the negative ion of acetic acid which is the main ingredient of vinegar. (Vinegar is a 5% solution of acetic acid in water.) On labels you might see Sodium Acetate, but not just acetate. This is because you need a positive ion like sodium to balance the negative charge of the acetate ion. Sometimes cosmetics have acetate salts in them because this stabilizes the mixture of ingredients or offers some other necessary quality to the cosmetic. Formaldehyde and acetone are very simple organic solvents that are probably used to dissolve some of the ingredients in the mixture. Acetone is the main ingredient of nail-polish remover. Aluminum is a common ingredient in underarm deodorants. I do not believe that any of these ingredients cause cancer, but too much of any of them could be harmful. The amounts in consumer products like makeup are unlikely to cause cancer, but I would use them sparingly if I were you.

Finally, to answer your first question, tocopherol acetate is the acetic acid salt of vitamin E. It is a lot more like vitamin E than acetone.

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