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.
It’s been a bad week for water. First it was reported that a probable carcinogen called hexavalent chromium (a.k.a. chromium-6, the one made famous by Erin Brockovich) was found in the tap water of 25 cities of the 35 that were tested. And now there is a whole other concern in California around possible water contamination from all the rain we’ve been getting in the sunshine state. Ugh.
Thanks to Brockovich, California actually set a 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) limit for chromium-6 in drinking water, but the study has shown that some cities contain far higher levels than that.
The Los Angeles Times gives a good breakdown here of what we know about chromium-6. Basically, it’s a likely “occupational carcinogen” when inhaled, increasing the risk of lung and other cancers. We know less about what happens when we drink it, though in rodent studies it caused intestinal tumors.
A senior scientist from the EWG is saying in this CNN post that your best bet is a filter, and that there are currently no guarantees that it’s not in bottled water too. But is a Brita sufficient?
Here is a breakdown by NSF, an independent nonprofit, of what filtration methods are proven to work in ridding hexvalent from our water: Reverse osmosis works, of course, but it’s expensive; filtration can work, but not all countertop filters are created equal. The one cited here, by ZeroWater, is certified by NSF. Bonus: This is the one Siobhan owns and uses.
What are you doing about it?
It’s a bit of a slow Monday on the nets, so we have to thank our friend—one of those guys who knows way more about China than the rest of us—for turning us onto a recent controversy over there that we’d somehow missed.
You see last month, the discovery that China’s BaWang Shampoo contained the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane sent the company’s stock tumbling. Here’s the thing though:
The amount of 1,4-dioxane in BaWang (10 parts per million) is pretty much on par, if not lower than, the levels discovered in products over here. Kudos for the public outrage, but it’s definitely not a China-only story.
This, however, may be: After coming under fire, the company spokesperson finally broke his silence on the subject. According to the Shangaiist this is what Jackie Chan had to say: “I have always been very careful with what products I endorse. But there are some media who are specifically gunning for me and a few other artistes, I am not sure why, as though it is better that we all just died.”
Either something got lost in translation here, or this is the oddest slash funniest attempt at media damage control we’ve ever seen. Anybody want to guess which?