How to Avoid Formaldehyde In Beauty Products (Expecially Now That the Government Has Admitted It’s a Carcinogen)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added eight new substances to its carcinogen list, and guess what made the cut? Our old friend formaldehyde. This doesn’t mean the cosmetics industry has to (or will) stop using the substance in its products, though, so here’s a primer that we hope you’ll share widely, on how to avoid that ghastly, terrible, no good, very bad thing.
As a reminder, formaldehyde is used in some nail polishes and chemical straightening procedures like the Brazilian blowout—yes, even in formulations that claim to be formaldehyde free (it’s the active ingredient, y’all; doesn’t work without the poison)—but it can also leach out of products like shampoo, baby wash, face wash and makeup, too. It is often present in the form of what are euphemistically called “formaldehyde donors.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about donations I think about kidneys, and blood, and organizations like UNICEF and the Nature Conservancy. I don’t think about shampoos donating carcinogens to me while I shower. Pretty sure I’m not alone on that.
So for a refresher, now that we have a long-overdue federal warning on the matter, here is some of what to avoid, and how.
1. The Brazilian blowout. We did it. We regret it—or, well, we would have regretted it if it hadn’t been the inspiration for our book. Do not do this, little chickens, or any similar procedure whether or not it has that name. Variations include but are not limited to keratin hairstyling, keratin treatment, Brazilian hair straightening…you get the picture.
2. Any nail polish that doesn’t explicitly say it is formaldehyde-free. If it doesn’t say that, it probably isn’t. And if you read the label and see formaldehyde on it (ahem) well, then you have your answer. The good news? Many are formaldehyde- and other-nasties-free (see our review and the many recommendations in the comments from all of you).
3. Products containing DMDM-Hydantoin. Here’s a fun thing to do: Go to the drug store and check the back of every shampoo on the shelf and count how many do NOT contain this, because you’ll lose count if you try to tally the ones that DO. It’s a preservative, it releases formaldehyde, and you do not want to use this on yourself or your baby (or your boyfriend).
4. Products containing quaternium-15. Another preservative that leaches formaldehyde. Even the industry itself acknowledges in its reports (which I would link to except it’s behind a paywall). Avoid.
5. Products containing diazolidinyl urea (or Germall 115). Another common antimicrobial that leaches formaldehyde. Scan your ingredients. And if you don’t want to listen to us, listen to Dr, Oz, who has it on his no-no list in You Being Beautiful, which we mention a bunch in the book.
6. Products containing imidiazolidinyl urea (or Germall II). Ditto.
7. Products containing butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Used in eye makeup, eye pencils, lots of skincare products, fragrance and fragrance-masking chemicals, which can be present in products listed as “fragrance-free.” Some people say it’s not a formaldehyde donor, some people say it is. I’m not a chemist but I tend to err on the side of caution, and you should too.
We might be preaching to the converted here (“might,” ha) but you all know people who know people, so please—share this information with them.