Formaldehyde in cosmetic products

Low levels of formaldehyde are found in many consumer products, but high levels of exposure to the chemical are unsafe. Always check ingredients labels and follow care instructions when using products that contain formaldehyde.

About formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical that nearly every living animal and plant produces at various levels throughout their life. Formaldehyde is an important component in the production of many popular consumer items. It is also a medical preservative for human tissue and organs, and is contained in household and industrial products.

Consumer products that contain low levels of formaldehyde include:

  • cosmetics
  • shampoos and conditioners
  • shower gels
  • liquid hand soap
  • cream cleansers
  • skin moisturisers
  • toothpastes
  • nail hardeners
  • eyelash glue
  • hair straightening solutions.

It is also known as formalin, morbicid acid, methylene oxide, methylaldehyde and methylene glycol.

Risks and injuries

While exposure to low levels of formaldehyde is not dangerous, high exposure to the chemical is a safety concern.

High levels of exposure to formaldehyde, particularly in cosmetic products, can cause:

  • sensory irritation
  • skin sensitisation
  • breathing difficulties
  • asthma
  • cancer, in circumstances where there is chronic high exposure.

Buying tips

  • Check the ingredients label before purchasing a product.
  • If the product is supplied at a salon, ask to see the ingredients label. If the product recommends patch testing first, then insist on doing it.
  • Exercise caution when buying a product over the internet, particularly if you cannot see the ingredients label or list and the supplier is not located in Australia.  If you cannot access the safety related information, do not buy the product.

Safe use

  • Always follow after care instructions.
  • Stop using the product and seek medical attention if you suffer an allergic reaction.

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