Formaldehyde and substances that breaks down to formaldehyde, so-called formaldehyde releasers, are used in personal care products as preservatives to avoid growth of bacteria and fungi. Formaldehyde is also common in nail polish and nail hardeners. In January 2016, formaldehyde was classified as a CMR-substance by EU, i.e. a substance that is either carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction. Since then, the cosmetic industry has been fighting to be able to keep formaldehyde in nail products as an allowed exception, claiming that there are no suitable alternative substances. However, the European commission has now finally decided to ban formaldehyde completely from use in cosmetics, nail products and toothpaste since they consider that industry has failed to prove that there is no alternative. This is very positive news but the question is to what extent this affects the presence of formaldehyde in skin care products. The ban only applies to Formaldehyde, Paraformaldehyde, Metylene glycol and one of the formaldehyde releasers, Quternium-15. Sadly, all other formaldehyde releasers will still be allowed.
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- DMDM hydantoinin
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
Low doses of formaldehyde are generally considered harmless and non-carcinogenic. Recent science shows that this is likely not the case. Even if low concentrations of formaldehyde is not directly mutagenic or carcinogenic, it impairs the skin cells' capability to repair damaged DNA. The type of damage that occurs when we expose ourselves to sun light, which infers an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Formaldehyde releasers are very common in skin-care products. A Danish investigation from 2000 showed that out of 100 tested skin creams on the Danish market, 51 contained either formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasers even though only 18 of them declared it in the list of ingredients. This hidden formaldehyde content is not likely to disappear from the market only because addition of formaldehyde gets banned.
In addition, you have to watch out and be careful when it comes to artisan skin-care products. The formaldehyde releaser Diazolidinyl urea is namely one of the ingredients in the preservative-mixes Germaben and Germall Plus, highly popular in DIY products.