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 Formaldehyde Toxic Chemical

Formaldehyde is a toxic chemical used in industry in the manufacture of glues and is also used as a preservative in cosmetics, vaccines and for embalming bodies.  Formaldehyde mixes easily with water but will not mix with oil or grease.  It is common to find formaldehyde in aqueous cosmetic formulations such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and bubble bath, even products designed for children such as bubble bath and baby shampoo have formaldehyde in them!

Would you knowingly put formaldehyde on your skin or allow your loved ones to if you knew the full facts?




These toxic chemical products may contaminate your children!


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Formaldehyde Fact Sheet

Health Effects of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde, a colourless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations of formaldehyde may trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and is a known carcinogen (may cause cancer in humans).  Health effects from exposure to formaldehyde include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. May also cause other effects listed under "organic gases."  EPA's Integrated Risk Information System profile -   http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0419.htm

How Formaldehyde Affects Your Body:

Fact Sheet

Formaldehyde can affect you when you breathe its vapours and/or touch the liquid. Because formaldehyde reacts quickly with body tissues, it mainly affects sites of direct contact, such as the lungs and eyes and skin. The most common effect of mild overexposure is irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, as described below.

 Eyes, Nose, and Throat:

The eyes, nose, and throat are irritated by formaldehyde vapours at levels as low as 1 part formaldehyde per million parts of air (1 part per million, or 1 "ppm" - see "Legal Exposure Limits"). Low-level exposure can cause teariness, redness, and burning of the eyes, sneezing and coughing, and sore throat. Liquid formaldehyde solutions contacting the eyes can damage the cornea, possibly causing blindness.

Exposure to formaldehyde vapours produces varied effects; some people have irritant symptoms at very low levels, while others can tolerate higher levels with little or no reaction. Some common effects of formaldehyde vapours on the eyes, nose, and throat are described below:


High levels (5-30 ppm and higher) can severely irritate the lungs, causing chest pain and shortness of breath.

Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can cause asthma. Symptoms of asthma include chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde and/or other respiratory irritants may also increase your chances of contracting pneumonia or bronchitis. Formaldehyde's long-term effects on the lungs are not fully understood but may cause permanent damage.


Formaldehyde solutions can destroy your skin's natural protective oils. Frequent or prolonged skin contact with formaldehyde solutions can cause dryness, flaking, cracking, and dermatitis (skin rash). Skin contact can also cause an allergic reaction (redness, itching, hives, and blisters). Studies show that as many as one in twenty workers who are regularly exposed to formaldehyde develop an allergic skin reaction.


Formaldehyde causes cancer in test animals. Some studies have suggested that formaldehyde exposure can cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers formaldehyde a probable human carcinogen. Formaldehyde is classed as a carcinogen under California's Prop 65.

 Reproductive System:

The effects of formaldehyde on the reproductive system have not been well studied. In limited studies, formaldehyde did not harm pregnancy in female animals or affect the reproductive function of male animals. We do not know whether formaldehyde can affect pregnancy or reproductive function in humans; however, exposures that do not cause other symptoms probably will not affect pregnancy or reproductive function. Click for a full in depth report dealing with the toxic effects of formaldehyde

 Following Article By Stephen and Gina Antczak - authors of "Cosmetics Unmasked"

To the old adage that there is nothing more certain than death and taxes, you might want to add the tendency of Government to tell us what is and what is not good for us.

Take for example, the BSE crisis. The Government assured us that it was safe to eat beef. Then they had to do a U-turn and banned beef on the bone. There was no scientific evidence that eating beef was a health hazard but equally, there was no evidence to say it was safe. The scientists simply hadn't a clue. With hindsight, they should have just told us the truth and let us decide for ourselves whether or not to eat beef. After all, the beef market collapsed in spite of their efforts to assure us it was safe.

At the same time that the Government was telling us beef was safe, strict regulations were imposed on the cosmetics industry relating to the use of beef and other animal products. These regulations are so stringent that they do not simply reduce but eliminate the possibility of any contamination of cosmetic products with BSE.

It's a shame that the same standards do not apply in the case of all the chemicals used in our cosmetics and toiletries. About one in ten of these chemicals have known harmful effects ranging from mild skin irritants to potential carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) and because of the inherent dangers, their use is restricted. But as the law currently stands, the restrictions only apply when the chemicals are used for specific purposes and so manufacturers are free to use as much as they want when using them for other purposes. (For example, triclosan must not exceed 0.3 percent of the finished product when used as a preservative but it can exceed this limit when used to prevent the growth of microbes on your body as it is used in a number of deodorants.) Furthermore, the restrictions do not apply to those chemicals that find their way into our cosmetics for no reason but as an unintended part of the manufacturing process.

This raises several concerns. Why are these dangerous chemicals allowed in our cosmetics at all? Who decides on what is a safe amount and how is this decided? And why do we always have to rely on what governmental bodies decide is safe? Shouldn't consumers be provided with the information to allow them to decide for themselves what they want to buy? To help answer these questions, this article focuses on formaldehyde, a chemical that is commonly used as a preservative, and then considers the contaminants, dioxane and nitrosamines.

Preservatives are used in cosmetics essentially to make them safe by preventing harmful bacteria from breeding in them. But while preservatives can make cosmetics safe to use, they can be potentially harmful in themselves. All preservatives can kill living cells, which is why they are able to kill microbes. Fortunately, we have lots of cells and can afford to lose a few. And since the cells in our outer layer of skin are already dead, most preservatives can do little harm. That's providing they stay on the outside of our body and do not come into contact with any sensitive, living cells such as those in our eyes or the mucous membranes in our nose, mouth and urinary tract. The potentially harmful effects of the preservatives must be carefully balanced against the much greater health hazards that can be caused by the microbes that get into our toiletries during normal use.

So while we acknowledge that preservatives are essential, we should next consider whether some of them are safer than others. Manufacturers choose preservatives based on cost and effectiveness. Formaldehyde is a cheap preservative that mixes easily with water but will not mix with oil or grease, so it is fairly common to find it in watery concoctions like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and even children's bubble bath. But you won't find it in greasy cosmetics like lipstick and moisturising cream because it won't mix with the oily ingredients.

As consumers we happily buy our shampoo, hand wash and family bubble bath, confident in the knowledge that the regulating bodies would not allow anything too harmful in these products. But formaldehyde is a cancer suspect and is banned from cosmetics and toiletries in both Sweden and Japan. (Recently, however, Japan is beginning to bow to pressure from Western nations to relax this ban and accept exports from the West.) Formaldehyde is also an irritant and it can trigger allergies. Some people have also reported symptoms such as asthma and headaches after being exposed to it.

The safety of formaldehyde was reviewed in 1984, by a panel of scientific experts commissioned by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), a trade association representing the cosmetics industry. They concluded that there was insufficient data to show that cosmetics containing more than 0.2 percent of formaldehyde were safe. A different body, the European Union's (EU's) Scientific Committee on Cosmetics, decided that formaldehyde was safe if used "at low levels". As a result, cosmetics and toiletries sold within the EU may contain formaldehyde as a preservative but the following restrictions have been applied to its use:

However, these restrictions only apply where formaldehyde is used as a preservative. Formaldehyde can also be added to antibacterial (antiseptic) hand wash to kill microbes on your hands, and it is an important ingredient in some types nail hardeners. EU regulations allow up to 5 percent of formaldehyde in nail hardeners (that's 25 times more than the CTFA's safe level) and there are no specific regulations concerning its use as an antibacterial. If a nail hardener contains more than 0.05 percent of formaldehyde the label must clearly display the following warnings: "Contains Formaldehyde" and "Protect cuticles with grease or oil."

But these warnings are not required on shampoo, shower gel or family bubble bath, all of which can legally contain four times as much formaldehyde. Why have the regulating authorities decided that 0.05 percent of formaldehyde in nail hardeners is sufficiently dangerous to warrant specific warnings while more than four times as much in antimicrobial hand wash is safe? Why not set a standard safety level for all products?

The answer is that there would be no point. Manufacturers are only required to list those ingredients that are added intentionally. They do not have to list any ingredients that are not intended to be part of the product. For example, they do not have to list any of the solvents they use to add fragrance chemicals. Nor do they have to list any impurities such as pesticide residues, any chemical contaminants introduced during the manufacture of the ingredients or any chemicals, such as formaldehyde, that were used to preserve the ingredients before they were used to make the cosmetic or toiletry. In a Danish study of 285 shampoos, nearly 30 percent of them were found to contain formaldehyde but none of them listed it as an ingredient. The reason for this was the formaldehyde was present as an unintentional contaminant, because the raw materials used in the cosmetics had been preserved with it.

Reputable manufacturers routinely test their ingredients for residues of 1,4-dioxane and nitrosamines, both of which are carcinogens, and if the levels are too high, the ingredients are rejected or they are purified before being used. But we cannot be certain that all manufacturers do this, especially those operating in less regulated parts of the world, and there is ample evidence to show that some manufacturers clearly don't. Research carried out in 1991 found up to 85,000 parts per billion of 1,4-dioxane residues in 40 percent of the cosmetics tested. In 1977 a study found that 93 percent of cosmetics tested contained nitrosamines in concentrations ranging from 10 to 50,000 parts per billion. A follow-up study in 1991-2 found up to 3,000 parts per billion of nitrosamines in 65 percent of the cosmetics tested - a slight improvement but still a cause for concern.

Just what are the safe levels of these contaminants? The truth is, no one knows. Many of the ingredients commonly used in the cosmetics and toiletries we use every day are increasingly coming under suspicion. For example, the Food and Drug Administration in the USA are currently assessing the risks of DEA (diethanolamine) residues in cosmetics following a study that linked DEA to cancer in laboratory animals.

Does that mean you should throw out all your cosmetics that contain "DEA something"? No you shouldn't. The track record of cosmetics and toiletries is second to none and as far as we can tell there are no cases of cancer that can be directly linked to cosmetics or toiletries.

But equally, there are countless cases of cancer where the cause is unknown. And while the safety record of the vast majority of cosmetics and toiletries is excellent, most people have had a bad experience with a cosmetic or toiletry that left them with red, itching skin or a bad hair day. Perhaps the informed consumer should demand that cosmetics and toiletries carry labels that say, "Analysis shows that this product contains no formaldehyde." And a host of other common contaminants should also be included in the analysis.

If there is a risk, however slight, then these substances should be removed from our personal care products. The technology to do this exists so as informed consumers we should insist that it is used. Twenty years ago the words, "Free from artificial colours and flavours," was rare on food packaging. Now it is commonplace. Let's do the same for cosmetics.

 Visit Stephen and Gina Antczak website- authors of "Cosmetics Unmasked"

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