Triethanolamine, often abbreviated as TEA, is an organic chemical compound which is both a tertiary amine and a tri-alcohol. A tri-alcohol is a molecule with three hydroxyl groups. Like other amines, triethanolamine acts as a weak base due to the lone pair of electrons on the nitrogen atom.


Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with aqueous ammonia; the reaction also produces monoethanolamine and diethanolamine. The ratio of the products can be controlled by changing the stoichiometry of the reactants.


This ingredient is used as a pH balancer in cosmetic preparations in a variety of different products - ranging from skin lotion, eye gels, moisturizers, shampoos, shaving foams etc.

Another common use of TEA is as a complexing agent for aluminium ions in aqueous solutions. This reaction is often used to mask such ions before performing what is called a complexometric titration with another chelating agent such as EDTA (EthyleneDiamineTetraAcetic acid), which will form stable complexes with most metallic ions.

Triethanolamine (TEA) is also used as organic additive (0.1 wt. %) in the grinding of cement clinker. It is proved to be very effective to facilitate the grinding process by preventing agglomeration and coating of the powder at the surface of balls and mill wall. To what extent could TEA complex heavy metals and radionuclides encapsulated in cement matrix and so could increase their solubility remains an open question.

TEA is listed under Schedule 3, part B of the Chemical Weapons Convention as it can be used in the manufacture of nitrogen mustards.


As with any amines, it may have the potential to create nitrosamines, but with the low concentrations used in cosmetic products the chances of that happening is very slim and it is further theorized that nitrosamines cannot penetrate the skin.


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