Toxic Chemicals in Your Skin Care and Beauty Products, Round 2: Formaldehyde. Also: The Surprising Lack of Regulation and Oversight in the Cosmetics Industry.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Let’s talk about the formaldehyde that might be lurking in your skin care and beauty products.

Formaldehyde? Yep.


Last week, I wrote and posted an article about five of the most dangerous chemicals that might be hiding in your personal care products, and I asked you to look at the products you’re currently using and to consider switching to healthier, less toxic alternatives.

So far, I know at least one person who has already done so. To which I say:  Bravo.

This week, I want to expand on this topic to talk about a few more scary ingredients — like formaldehyde — that are commonly found in the products we’re using every day to clean and moisturize and deodorize our bodies.

And I want to talk about how poorly regulated the cosmetics and beauty industry really is, and how skin care and cosmetics companies are pretty much left on their own to decide what’s safe and what’s not.

(Hint:  They don’t even test most of this stuff, you guys, so safety rarely even factors in.)

Because — as I said in my previous article — we need to be having a more open and honest dialogue about the ingredients in the personal care products we’re rubbing all over ourselves on a daily basis.

We need to put pressure on the industry to do better.

And we need to get SUPER CURIOUS about the items we’re using in our own homes.


Because, ultimately, it’s up to us to choose more wisely. And to stop supporting companies that are knowingly using toxic chemicals in the products they’re selling to us as safe.

Which is why I’m going to keep talking about this. And doing my best to get more people involved in the conversation.

To me, this issue is that important.


Ok, back to the list…

Here are three of the most common ways FORMALDEHYDE can be hiding in your products:





Diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and DMDM hydantoin are preservatives known as formaldehyde-releasers, which means that they slowly release formaldehyde over time to prevent skin care and beauty products from going bad. Essentially, these ingredients increase the shelf-life of the items.

(And, yes, this is the same formaldehyde that is used for embalming dead bodies.)

The bad news is that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen — as determined by the U.S. National Toxicology Program in 2011 — is rated a 10/10 on the toxicity scale by the Environmental Working Group, and is dangerous even at low concentrations.

Formaldehyde releasing preservatives are also often combined with parabens (discussed in my last article) to further increase shelf time. Unfortunately, this only increases overall toxicity, as longer storage time results in higher levels of formaldehyde. Higher temperatures are also an issue here, as they speed up the production of formaldehyde.

As the Environmental Working Group points out:  “As it stands in the U.S. there are no restrictions on the levels of formaldehyde allowed in any body care products, no requirement to test products made with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives for levels of formaldehyde, and certainly no obligation to inform consumers that the products they use each day are likely to contain a cancer-causing chemical that does not appear on the list of ingredients.”

What?? NOT COOL.

This is why we have to read labels and then know what to look for. Because I’m pretty sure if the product said contains formaldehyde or contains formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, you’d be a lot less likely to purchase it.

Instead, companies hide behind chemical names like diazolidinyl urea and DMDM hydantoin, and then hope their customers don’t investigate further.

Which is where the need for CURIOSITY comes in, if you ask me.

As the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics notes on their website, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents are banned in personal care products in both Japan and Sweden, and are subject to concentration limits in the EU, with strict labeling laws that also apply when companies choose to include these compounds.

The United States needs to catch up. Big time.


The last time a law was passed to impose any sort of restrictions or regulations on the beauty and cosmetics industry — which includes skin care, make-up, and personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant — was in 1938.



And it has only been amended once since that time. Once.

This is crazy.

In addition, the safety of ingredients in personal care products is only evaluated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), which is funded by the cosmetics industry itself. Plus, any compliance with recommendations made by the CIR is completely voluntary.

To date, the CIR “has reviewed less than 20% of the FDA estimated 12,500 chemicals used in cosmetics.”  Furthermore, as they state on their own website, “CIR does not usually review fragrances, colors, or flavorings.”

Another reason to avoid products with FRAGRANCE in the ingredient list.

If you can’t tell yet, I feel very passionately about all of this. And, as I’ve said before, I’m legitimately surprised that the discussion about the possible — and often likely — toxicity of skin care, personal care, and beauty products is not more public.

Personally, I’d like to see 1,000 individuals — both women and men — trade out at least one of their products for an alternative that doesn’t include any of the ingredients I’ve listed in this article or my previous article.*

If you’re on board with this, please share my articles and increase awareness around this issue.


And if you have any awesome alternative options for those looking to switch to non-toxic products, I’d love for you to comment and share. (I’ll be sharing a few of my own suggestions sometime in the next few days.)

Lastly, if you’d like to support this cause or you’re ready to make the switch or just want to be part of the conversation, take to your Facebook or your Instagram or your Twitter account and post a photo or share this article or show your support in some other way that feels good to you. Use the hashtag #cleancosmetics.

I really believe we can make a difference, you guys.

Help me make more noise about this issue than I could ever possibly make on my own.


Need more convincing? Watch this video.

And although I haven’t personally used any Beauty Counter products, the founder’s presentation here is full of great information.


*I didn’t want to write the longest article ever, so I didn’t list all the possibly toxic ingredients to look out for. Here’s a few more you might consider looking into yourself:  BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene), TRICLOSAN (often found in hand soap), and SALICYLIC ACID. I recommend visiting the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics online for information about these compounds.