Formaldehyde Found in Popular American Beauty Products

A human-classified carcinogen, formaldehyde, was found in unhealthy amounts in popular cosmetics according to a study from Washington state.

Key takeaways:
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    Formaldehyde is a human-classified carcinogen that can cause health concerns if overexposed to.
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    Newly released research from The State of Washington finds formaldehyde present in numerous beauty product samples.
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    The FDA warns against formaldehyde in hair-smoothing products and provides advice on how to be safe when selecting hair products.

The Washington State Department of Ecology found 26 of 40 different beauty product samples containing formaldehyde in amounts that can be harmful to humans.

According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), formaldehyde can irritate the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen due to high amounts of exposure linked to different forms of cancer.

The study titled Chemicals in Cosmetics Used by Washington Residents says formaldehyde is included in beauty products to prevent bacterial growth. In most cases, cosmetic manufacturers add methylene glycol or another chemical to release formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is present in nail polishes, hair-smoothing products, body wash, and various makeup products,

There are some racial disparities when using beauty products. A California study found Latina women use makeup products more frequently than other races/ethnicities while Black women used more hair products.

As mentioned, harmful ingredients such as formaldehyde can lead to cancer. The CDC finds Black women have a higher death percentage from breast cancer versus other racial groups. Washington research also mentions Black women are more likely to have breast cancer before the age of 45 versus white women.

The Washington State Department of Ecology tested 40 different cosmetics for formaldehyde, those tested did not list formaldehyde as an ingredient in the product on the label. Products were purchased from Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree, and Fred Meyer. Levels of formaldehyde over 250 parts per million can lead to potential health concerns.

Key findings:

  1. Formaldehyde was found in seven out of 10 skin lotions, nine out of 10 leave-in conditioners, and all 10 hair styling gels.
  2. Hair styling gels and creams usually contained more formaldehyde, ranging from 254 ppm to 1660 ppm.
  3. Shine 'n Jam Extra Hold Conditioning Styling Gel available from Walmart had the highest level of formaldehyde.
  4. Formaldehyde was not present in the powder foundations tested.
  5. A Dollar Tree product marked for children contained Perfect Purity for Kids Watermelon Spritz Spray Detangler, which contained formaldehyde at 214 ppm.

Formaldehyde in lotions and creams

Products with a concentration of formaldehyde over 250 ppm include:

  • Spa Naturals Coconut Oil Moisturizing Cream - 603 ppm
  • XtraCare Diabetics' Hydrating Lotion - 535 ppm
  • PerCara Aloe Vera Deep Moisturizing Daily Lotion - 343 ppm
  • Keri Original Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion - 271 ppm

Formaldehyde in leave-in hair conditioners

Conditioner products with amounts of formaldehyde over 250 ppm:

  • Luster's S Curl Activator Moisturizer Leave-in Conditioner - 654 ppm
  • Aussie Miracle Curls Creme Pudding - 488 ppm
  • Salon Selectives Instant Repair Leave in Conditioner - 411 ppm
  • Infusium Original Leave-in Treatment Conditioner - 342 ppm (estimate)
  • Salon Selectives Curl Control Curl Stretch Cream - 332 ppm
  • ORS Replenishing Conditioner - 322 ppm
  • Paul Mitchell Original Leave-In Conditioner - 265 ppm

Formaldehyde in hair products

All styling gels and creams included formaldehyde over 250 ppm. Here are the products possessing more than 500ppm:

  • Shine 'n Jam Extra Hold Conditioning Styling Gel - 1660 ppm
  • ORS Lock & Twist Styling Gel - 716 ppm
  • Ampro Pro Styl Protein Styling Gel - 593 ppm
  • Pantene Gold Series Curl Defining Pudding - 529 ppm
  • Herbal Essences Curl Defining Styling Cream - 524 ppm
  • Aussie Head Strong Volume Styling Gel - 500 ppm

FDA on cosmetics

Cosmetics are regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Unlike drugs, cosmetics do not require a thorough FDA approval process. A majority of chemicals regulated are completed voluntarily by the manufacturer.

In order for cosmetics to be sold to consumers, the package must include an active ingredient list. However, ingredients at low levels that have no impact on the cosmetic product are not included — such as formaldehyde.

The FDA recommends reading the label before the purchase of hair-smoothing products to avoid harmful ingredients such as formaldehyde, formalin, and methylene glycol. Also, the FDA recommends speaking with salon professionals to see if they are aware of formaldehyde’s presence in the product.

If a bad reaction is suffered from a hair smoothing product, the FDA says to report all symptoms to the FDA as well the nearest health care providers.


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