What's The Deal With Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde and FRPs are used as a preservative in personal care products.

Some of the places you find them are in baby shampoo, body wash, hair gel & smoothing products, eyelash & nail glue, blush, mascara, sunscreen, lotion, and eye shadow.

So what is this stuff?

It’s a gas that holds a strong smell & no color. It’s used for various things in many industries, such as for building materials & walls, as well as furniture & cabinets, toilet bowl cleaner, vinyl flooring. And why we’re hearing talking about this of course, in personal care products.

The argument in support of using this ingredient is that without formaldehyde-releasing preservatives waterbased products will grow mold, etc.

Despite the positive it may create for the shelflife of products, the bigger issue comes into play because this chemical can be absorbed by our skin. It is this absorption and the resulting “contamination” that have been linked to both allergic skin reactions and cancer.

Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen (which is any substance that promotes the formation of cancer). There was a review done in 2009 on what happens after the prolonged exposure to formaldehyde and there was a link found between this gas and leukemia. A 2014 study  also provided the linkage of how this gas can initiate the forming of tumors.

The harm comes when we use these in our personal care products & provide formaldehyde the opportunity to be inhaled, ingesting or absorbed by our skin.

*Side note - As black women, we need to be particularly wary of keratin strengthening treatments and Brazilian blowouts as they both often contain products that have formaldehyde as an ingredient.

For example, there was hazard alert released in 2011 by OSHA because of this. While the FDA sent a warning letter to companies, they have no hard regulatory power to recall or stop the use of this ingredient from happening.  

Here are some different ways formaldehyde will be listed on your ingredients label:

  • Formaldehyde

  • Quaternium-15

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Imidazolidinyl urea

  • Diazolidinyl urea (releases the most formaldehyde of any FRP)

  • Polyoxymethylene urea

  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1

  • 3-diol (bromopol)

  • Glyoxal

So why so many names?

Quite a few of these are representative of the releasing preservatives, that release smaller amounts of formaldehyde over time.

It’s easy to see why the argument in favor of the safety of slow-releasing formaldehyde preservatives is the “better” option, but levels as low as 250 parts per million have been shown to cause harm by way of health concerns. The storage time and temperature are going to be attributing factors here.

This ingredient (gas, if we’re calling the kettle black) is banned from being used in cosmetics in both Japan and Sweden. It is restricted in the EU (including restrictions on formaldehyde- releasing preservatives) with strict labeling requirements.

So what can you do?

  • Remember this list of ingredients.

  • Download the EWG app & scan your products.

  • Look for nail products that are labeled formaldehyde-free or toxic-trio-free.

  • Stay away from salon products, as they do not have to adhere to any labeling laws.

  • Do not use products that have been sitting in the sun or those that have expired.

#staywoke & #slayon