Is there formaldehyde in skincare products?

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Is there formaldehyde in skincare products? Can it be possible that some of your favorite beauty products contain formaldehyde? Face nourishing creams, lotions, personal lubricants, moisturizers, perhaps even that baby oil, which you are daily applying to your bellowed newborn? Did it ever occur to you that there’s a chance that manufacturers are adding toxic, deadly, cancer-causing ingredients to skincare products?

Formaldehyde is in 95% of all skincare products. Not only is it bad for your skin, it is highly toxic and hazardous to your health. In this article we will thoroughly analyze the usage of formaldehyde, not only in lubes, but a wide range of skincare products. We will reveal the list of formaldehyde ingredients, the so called formaldehyde releasing agents aka “formaldehyde releasers” and compounds made with process of synthesis that includes formaldehyde. By the end of this article you will be able to recognize formaldehyde ingredients at first glance and make better decisions when buying your favorite skincare products.

Quick note before further reading – We recommend you also check our article on 5 toxic ingredients, where we evaluate ingredients in a broader spectrum. There you will find more general information on what is good and what is bad, while here our focus is primarily on formaldehyde ingredients.

 

I would like to share an event that happened to me way back… Years ago I was struggling with painful headaches, cause of which I couldn’t figure out for a few months. At that time I was using deodorant and face nourishing cream moisturizer, both of which I applied in the morning before going to work. I got both of those as a gift. One day I told my friend about my problem, and what she said began a new chapter of my life: “Are you using skincare products? Perhaps there is formaldehyde in your skincare products? This would explain your headaches.”

formaldehyde in skincare
formaldehyde in skincare products

Here’s what I found (referring to the image above): This is the exact cream I used at that time (don’t have a photo of the original since it was so long ago). First notice how it uses terms such as “premium”, “paraben free”, etc. Which gives a customer a feeling, that nothing potentiality harmful lies within. But a closer look at ingredients, reveals 3 that are based on formaldehyde (The above photo displays just one of many cases of formaldehyde in skincare products):

  • Diazolidinyl Urea 1 [Why is it harmful: formaldehyde releaser; Primary function: antimicrobial preservative]
  • DMDM Hydantoin 2 [Why is it harmful: formaldehyde releaser; Primary function: antimicrobial agent and preservative]
  • Disodium EDTA 3 [Why is it harmful: process of synthesis includes formaldehyde; Primary function : chelating agent]
 

There is no doubt that absorption of formaldehyde through skin will happen in case of dermal contact. Though formaldehyde in skincare products becomes most dangerous when inhaled. Applying formaldehyde releasing ingredients on your face in the morning, means that you’re gonna breathing formaldehyde polluted air through the entire day. And that’s exactly what happened in my case, and the cause of my headaches.

 

Below is a table with 15 common formaldehyde agents used in cosmetics and skincare. Some of these are “formaldehyde releasers”, while other are made with synthesis that includes the use of formaldehyde and are not officially labeled as releasers (e.g. EDTA’s). If you know of any other ingredient we might have left, give us a comment and we are going to include it on the list. You can use this list as a guide to avoid ingredients containing formaldehyde in skincare products.

These ingredients are all extremely hazardous to your health, irritant, even carcinogenic, but we tried to evaluate the most toxic (red) from those that are a bit “less” most toxic (yellow). This evaluation is based on data from ewg rating and from various studies found on ncbi and other credible sources. We hope this list will help you avoid formaldehyde in skincare products, and promote natural, healthy skincare products.

 

15 formaldehyde ingredients in skincare products

No.HazardIngredientAka's
1yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Diazolidinyl Urea♦78491-02-8 ♦1-(1,3-Bis(hydroxymethyl)-2,5-dioxoimidazolidin-4-yl)-1,3-bis(hydroxymethyl)urea ♦Germall II ♦Germall 11
2yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Imidazolidinyl Urea♦39236-46-9 ♦IMIDUREA ♦Germall 115 ♦1,1'-Methylenebis(3-(3-(hydroxymethyl)-2,5-dioxoimidazolidin-4-yl)urea)
3red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Polyoxymethylene Urea♦Polynoxylin ♦Urea formaldehyde ♦9011-05-6 ♦Gabrite ♦Isobutylated urea formaldehyde
4yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Disodium EDTA♦Disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid ♦139-33-3 ♦Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid disodium salt solution ♦Edta disodium
5yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Tetrasodium EDTA♦Sodium edetate ♦64-02-8 ♦Edetate sodium ♦Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid tetrasodium salt
6red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22DMDM Hydantoin♦1,3-Bis(hydroxymethyl)-5,5-dimethylimidazolidine-2,4-dione ♦6440-58-0 ♦Dmdmh ♦Glydant
7red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Quaternium-15♦NSC172971 ♦AC1Q3HC4 ♦1-(3-Chloroallyl)-3,5,7-triaza-1-azoniaadamantane chloride ♦ZINC19319483
8red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Bronopol♦52-51-7 ♦2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol ♦Bronosol ♦2-Bromo-2-nitro-1,3-propanediol
9red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Bronidox♦5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane ♦30007-47-7 ♦5-Bromo-5-nitro-m-dioxane ♦UNII-U184I9QBNM
10yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate♦70161-44-3 ♦Sodium 2-((hydroxymethyl)amino)acetate ♦Suttocide A ♦Glycine, N-(hydroxymethyl)-, monosodium salt
11red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Glyoxal♦Ethanedial ♦107-22-2 ♦Oxalaldehyde ♦oxaldehyde ♦Biformal ♦Biformyl
12yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)♦2,6-Di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol ♦128-37-0 ♦Butylhydroxytoluene ♦2,6-Di-tert-butyl-p-cresol
13red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Methenamine♦Hexamethylenetetramine10 ♦0-97-0 ♦Hexamine ♦Urotropine
14red hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Benzylhemiformal♦(Benzyloxy)methanol ♦14548-60-8 ♦phenylmethoxymethanol ♦XDK482748R
15yellow hazard - toxic formaldehyde ingredient 22x22Germaben II♦Product made of propylene glycol, propylparaben, methylparaben, and diazolidinyl urea
 

You should note, that these ingredients mainly have the same function – preservation. With these ingredients manufacturers achieve long lasting properties of their products. Thus the product will not go bad, get moldy, etc… for 2-10 years. Yes, the cream you just bought, might have been created like 5 years prior to your purchase. You will need to have a hawk eye, to notice these ingredients being marked on the product label. The product may contain 1 to 3 of the listed ingredients. And even one mention is enough the reason to avoid the product.

You always need to be careful and remember the basic aka’s of these chemicals. Manufacturers can be cunning. As soon as community starts avoiding certain ingredients, they simply rename that same ingredient to another name. For example, renaming Diazolidinyl Urea to 78491-02-8. 90% of the customers will not notice, that it is the same chemical.

 
bronidox skincare product label (5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane)
photo showing bronidox on a product label

Health hazards of formaldehyde in skincare products

Needless to say formaldehyde is extremely dangerous substance. It can affect your skin, which increases risk of developing carcinogenic tumors. One of the main concerns are also effects of formaldehyde releasing agents via inhalation. Consequences appear in long-term exposure to formaldehyde substance. Little by little, it slowly (but surely) destroys human organs, while producing mutagenic and genotoxic properties. Let’s take a look at some “formaldehyde in skincare products” related court cases.

 

Lawsuits due to formaldehyde in skincare products

CASE #1 – [source]

Here we have a 2016 case, where Johnson & Johnson had to pay $72 million for losing the court case. The money was paid to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. Family sued the pharmaceutical giant, charging them that the cause of death was J&J baby powder. And here is an interesting excerpt from the article:

“After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company (Johnson & Johnson) agreed to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products.”

 

CASE #2 – [source]

2018 case, where Johnson & Johnson failed Indian drug watchdog test. Rajasthan Drugs Control Organisation indicated formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, had been discovered in the samples of baby shampoo. As a consequence shares in the company fell by around 10 percent, wiping out about $40 billion from the company’s market capitalization.

baby shampoo formaldehyde
 

CASE #3 – [source]

2017 lawsuit against FDA. Lawsuit was filed by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Women’s Voices For The Earth, are charging the FDA for allowing hair products with “unsafe levels of formaldehyde” to remain on the market. The American Cancer Society notes that professional keratin hair smoothing products can contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasing chemicals.

 

Studies related to toxicity of formaldehyde releasing agents

Here is an Opinion from SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) about the safety of Quaternium-15 [source]:

Q: Does the SCCS have any scientific concerns for the continued use or any modification in the specifications for the substance?

A: Taking  into  account  the  CMR  classification  of  Cis-1-(3-chloroallyl)-3,5,7-triaza-1-azoniaadamantane chloride (Quaternium-15) and considering the absence of relevant toxicological data, the SCCS considers its continued use in cosmetic products may not be safe for the consumers.

…and yet it is still used in cosmetic products.

 

Here are we present relevant excerpts from the 2015 study on the safety of cosmetic ingredients [source]:

Cosmetics are an important cause of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). Fragrances and preservatives are the two most clinically relevant allergens found in cosmetic products causes of contact allergy. Allergic reactions produce side effects that include skin sensitivity, dermatitis, asthma attacks and migraine.

The used of formaldehyde releasers has become a common practice. Quarternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, bronopol and dimethyloldimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin are formaldehyde-releasers that are often used in cosmetic products.

 

Another Opinion from SCCS about the safety of 4 known formaldehyde releasing agents in skincare products [source]:

During the development of method(s) for the analysis of formaldehyde releasers imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate and benzylhemiformal, it was observed that these compounds decompose very rapidly to release formaldehyde when dissolved in aqueous/ polar solvents. Therefore, identification and determination of these compounds in cosmetic products may not be possible with the present state of knowledge. There is no information on the stability (safety) of these compounds in cosmetic products.

study research formaldehyde releasers health hazards
 

2017 study by ToxServices (Toxicology Risk Assessment Consulting) conclusions on DMDM Hydantoin [source]:

1) Carcinogenicity: DMDM hydantoin was assigned a score of High for carcinogenicity based on the known carcinogenicity of its hydrolysis product formaldehyde. GreenScreen®criteria classify chemicals as a High hazard for carcinogenicity when they are listed by authoritative bodies (IARC Group 1, EPA-C Group B1,… ). Most of these listings are based on formaldehyde’s association with tumors of the nasal and respiratory tracts as the principle route of exposure to formaldehyde is via inhalation.

2) Mutagenicity / Genotoxicity: DMDM hydantoin was assigned a score of Moderate for mutagenicity/genotoxicity based on positive results for mutagenicity obtained in some in vitro tests and screening lists, and its expected in vivo hydrolysis product formaldehyde being associated with H341.

3) Skin sensitization: DMDM hydantoin was assigned a score of Moderate for skin sensitization based on experimental data in animals and humans, which warrant classification to GHS category 1B.

Formaldehyde and skincare: The conclusion?

I think we have established some new findings on this matter. Based on our research, we can conclude our article with 6 key findings:

  • Formaldehyde can be found in numerous skincare products.
  • People did in-fact die from a long-term use of formaldehyde releasers.
  • Pharmaceutical giants failed to prove safety of formaldehyde releasers and had to pay millions of compensations.
  • Research studies were made on this topic and many are still in progress.
  • Supported studies conclude, that formaldehyde releasing agents are unsafe due to their carcinogenic properties, skin sensitization, mutagenicity, genotoxicity, …
  • Formaldehyde releasers are a proven cause of allergies and immunotoxicity, most common being the ACD (allergic contact dermatitis).
 

I believe that a great number of people will disagree with our findings. That’s OK. We support intellectual conflict and further discussion. What you should know is, that this article is not based on opinions. It is based on facts. We’ve given a serious amount of time into this topic, and if we try to recap this complete article into one sentence:

Our findings suggest that there are number of formaldehyde releasing ingredients in modern skincare products and based on the recent studies performed on this matter, we conclude that formaldehyde in skincare can indeed have negative health consequences for people using such products for longer time periods (years).

 

Below you may also find a video from CBS news. It’s an excerpt talking about formaldehyde, it’s usage and effects in hair processing.

Our advise is that you avoid the listed ingredients, thus avoiding formaldehyde in skincare products. There are numerous organic and healthy products, containing natural preservatives. Below are few healthy solutions to use as a face cream (for revitalization, anti-ageing, moisturizing).

 

Healthy recommendations for better skin

Era Organics – Vitamin-C Face Moisturizer & Eye Cream [go to Amazon] – With natural and organic ingredients, this cream is one of my favorite skincare solutions available on the market.

Era Organics healthy skincare face cream
 

Aloe Vera gel [go to our Aloe Vera article] – If you can get a hold of a plant Aloe Barbadensis, which carries amazing skincare properties, simply cut off a leaf, squeeze out the gel and use it as a face moisturizer.

skincare Aloe-Vera-Gel-transparent
 

Cold-Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil [go to our Coconut Oil article] – With cold pressed virgin Coconut Oil you may achieve wonders. But be careful, never use refined oils for your skin, always go for the cold-pressed.

skincare coconut-oil-coconut-oil-transparent

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