We’ve been over how formaldehyde can have some serious health impacts when we last talked about Brazilian Blowout. So, do you need a Brazilian Blowout or other keratin treatments to get exposed to formaldehyde? The answer is NO. To your surprise, you might find that many of the hair products that you are using everyday might be giving out low doses of formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde in your everyday hair products
So where is the formaldehyde coming from? One popular source is from no other than the preservatives in these products. There are a couple of preservatives that hydrolyze (break with the help of water) over time to release the formaldehyde. The slow release of the formaldehyde is necessary to kill the microorganisms and prevent spoiling of your products. Here’s the list:
- DMDM hydantoin*
- Imidazolidinyl urea*
- Diazolidinyl urea*
- Bronopol (2–bromo–2–nitropropane–1,3-diol )
Among these preservatives, the first 4 (*) are most commonly found in hair care products. Not all of them release the same amounts of formaldehyde. In a study to analyze the formaldehyde releasing potential of these 4 preservatives, researchers have found that Quaternium-15 was the strongest releaser with Imidazolidinyl urea being the lowest.
Should we be concerned?
The exposure levels from these preservatives are well within the safety limits of the various regulating agencies, which is why these preservatives haven’t been banned in the U.S. Also because preservatives themselves are used in very small percentages in the products (0.1-0.5% wt.), the formaldehyde levels will consequently be even lower. This is definitely not comparable to the formaldehyde exposure that people get from certain keratin treatments where the % formaldehyde can be as high as 15% wt.
The interesting thing however is that the same exact formaldehyde is released from many of the foods that we consume: from apples to beef to cheese [See chart here], and even from our bodies during amino acid synthesis and other metabolic processes. These levels are comparable to the those from the preservatives.
Regardless of how low the %, formaldehyde is still a carcinogen. So if we can avoid external things that release them, why not do so? Shouldn’t we err on the safe side? After all, there are other options for preserving hair products.
Final note: Preservatives in baby products
On a side but relevant note: It was a popular issue a few years back, when parents realized that Johnson & Johnson had quaternium-15 (the highest of the formaldehyde releaser) in the famous tear-free baby shampoo. While the preservative was deemed safe for babies, Johnson & Johnson decided to do the responsible precautionary thing: By early 2014, they had reformulated all of their baby products without this preservative. The new product now has the label:“Improved formula” on the bottle. [Read more here].