Toxin Spotlight: Formaldehyde

What It Is

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients–including the more commonly used DMDM hydantoin and urea–most often serve as preservatives in personal care products. They specifically prevent bacteria growth and allow products to last for an (unnecessarily) long amount of time.

Where It’s Found

While straight formaldehyde is generally only found in nail products, the formaldehyde-releasing DMDM hydantoin can be found in a large variety of products, including body washes, shampoos, conditioners, and cleansers. Urea and its derivatives, including polyoxymethylene urea, are also found in moisturizers and some cosmetics. While the use of formaldehyde has been restricted in Canada, there are no restrictions on formaldehyde releasers, which has allowed companies to incorporate them more frequently.

Why It’s Bad

You may have been surprised to hear that formaldehyde is still used in personal care products–I know I was! After all, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a known human carcinogen, specifically for people working with and inhaling the chemical. Since formaldehyde is also used in wood varnishing and other building materials, there is also concern over off-gassing and its affect on indoor air quality. Formaldehyde releasers, including DMDM hydantoin and polyoxymethylene urea, have been shown to irritate the skin even at low doses. DMDM hydantoin has specifically been flagged by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review.

Alternative Products

I may seem like a walking advertisement for Sukin, but it’s hard to beat their prices for the amazing quality of all their products. The Body Shop is another generally reliable source for reasonably priced non-toxic alternatives; I have yet to find a product of theirs that contain a formaldehyde releaser (but always make sure you check, just in case!). To avoid the urea found in a number of hand creams, I use Nova Scotia Fisherman. Their hand creams all smell amazing and work really well for dry, calloused hands. Plus I’m supporting a brand in my own country: bonus!

– Sukin Cream Cleanser:

– Sukin Botanical Body Wash:

– Sukin Hydrating Body Lotion:

– The Body Shop Milk & Honey Shower Cream:

– Nova Scotia Fisherman Hand Cream:

– Saje Hand Cream:




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