Hidden Chemicals: Formaldehyde

Preservatives, Not So Life-Preserving.

Formaldehyde is a widely used preservative in many cosmetics, including baby wash.  Other industrial uses include resins, vinyl flooring, plastics, permanent press fabric, and toilet bowl cleaners. Formaldehyde occurs (at low levels) naturally in the environment, however, industrial production worldwide is over 21 million tons per year (1). Formaldehyde may off-gas from cosmetics and be inhaled, as well as be absorbed through the skin.


  • nail polish
  • nail glue
  • eyelash glue
  • hair gel
  • hair smoothing products
  • baby shampoo
  • body soap
  • body wash
  • colour cosmetics


Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.


Cancer: The United States National Toxicology program and International Agency for Research on Cancer both list formaldehyde as a known carcinogen (2)(3).  Laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde in topical cosmetics can also be absorbed through the skin (4).

Read More

  1. BHA
  2. Coal Tar Dyes
  3. DEA
  4. Dibutyl Phthalate
  5. Formaldehyde
  6. Parabens
  7. Parfum
  8. PEG Compounds
  9. Petrolatum
  10. Siloxanes
  11. Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  12. Triclosan


  1. IARC. “Formaldehyde.” Monographs 88 (2006).
  2. Propionate, A., Chloride, B., Urea, D., Black, D., Hydantoin, D. M. D. M., Acetate, E., … & Glycerides, H. T. (2008). Annual Review of Cosmetic Ingredient Safety Assessments. International Journal of Toxicology, 27(1), 77-142.
  3. International Agency for Research on Cancer. “IARC classifies formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans.” Press release. June 15, 2004.
  4. Bartnik FG, Gloxhuber C, Zimmermann V. “Percutaneous absorption of formaldehyde in rats.” Toxicol Lett.25, 2 (1985):167-72.