Formaldehyde or Formalin or methylene glycol is a preservative, used for the preservation of tissue in pathological research, for disinfectant cleaners and preservatives in the cosmetics industry. Formaldehyde has many other uses in the industry (1) It was only in 2004 that formaldehyde was declared carcinogenic to humans by the World Organization for Cancer Research (IARC). Today many cosmetic ingredients are with formaldehyde for preservatives under other names such as – Quaterninium 15, which has also been declared carcinogenic (2). Those compounds contain molecules that form formaldehyde along with the product’s life so they are very good preservatives but also can be harmful to your health. You can also find formaldehyde in other products in the cosmetic industry like in the nail polish products (although you will not find labels on them usually) and in all the products for hair straightening that contain formaldehyde in large quantities and can affect the health of the customers but mainly the workers in those hair salons. Formaldehyde is also found in significant quantities in the air as a result of emissions from new plastics, burning processes in cars and industrial plants, and in much higher concentrations in urban/industrial environments than in rural areas.
Health effects of formaldehyde in cosmeticsThe health effects of formaldehyde in cosmetics and other uses include respiratory stimuli, respiratory problems, respiratory diseases, and surely cancer. There is also a suspicion of an increase in morbidity due to chronic asthma. The effect of the material is very personal for each person. Therefore, some people who are sensitive even with very low concentrations in the air will feel severe effects with difficult breathing etc. Starting at (0.01 parts per million) and others only at much higher concentrations, so the defined exposure thresholds are problematic. Skin experts recommend that people suffering from skin asthma not use formaldehyde-containing products (3).
Even when you read the label it’s not enoughIn the EWG study on infant products in the United States out of 28 products that were tested 82% were found with significant Formaldehyde amount although not labeled in the ingredients list. Many times, manufacturers prescribe methylene glycol which is formaldehyde in aqueous solution instead of formaldehyde (4)
Doing Japanese hair straightening?You and your hairdressers are exposed to very high concentrations of formaldehyde even if the products do not contain formaldehyde in the label.(4)
- Information of the Institute for Safety and Hygiene ISRAEL
- Quantrium 15 in baby products
- Formaldehyde in Japanese hair treatment- The Institute for Safety and Hygiene(Israel) (2011)
- The recommendation of the Ministry of Health regarding Japanese hair treatment(Israel)