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INCI of cosmetics, you know what you are applying on skin Part 11, formaldehyde

September 16, 2018
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INCI of cosmetics, you know what you are applying on skin Part 11, formaldehyde

Formaldehyde may appear in nail polish, hardener nail products, hair straightening treatments while substances that release formaldehyde are commonly used in cosmetics for hair, face and make up

  1. Formaldehyde

INCI is the label that, by law in several Countries of Western World, should show the ingredients used in cosmetic products. We have already dedicated posts about the subject and we have observed that some substances are needed, such as the preservatives, of course some are better than others, other substances are really beneficial, this is the case of tocopherol, but other substances are irritating, such as the silicones, or even dangerous or carcinogenic as the aluminum salts are considered. Learning to understand the INCI can be really helpful in order to avoid dangerous substances with consequently great benefits for our health and beauty. The skin may be able to breathe again, to protect itself from external agents and the pores aren’t clogged. Today we are speaking about formaldehyde in cosmetics.


Formaldehyde is an allergen and has been classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). For this reason, it should not appear in any cosmetic product that comes into contact with skin. Actually, the European Community has prohibited this substance in cosmetics and other Countries have strong limitations. However… there is a problem, for two reasons. First, the cosmetics contain often substances that release formaldehyde, you can recognize them in INCI because they appear in the label with these names, Imidazolidinyl urea, one of the most well-known, Diazolidinyl Urea, that is used especially in products for hair and face, Quaternium-15, used in powder make up, Sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate, Benzylhemiformal, Quaternium-18, Polyquaternium-10, DMDM Hydantoin, Chlorphenesin, Methylisothiazolinone. And for what concerns the second reason, formaldehyde in a pure form or in the form of resin, in INCI Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde resin respectively, is used in products that are not applied directly on skin such as nail polish, hardener nail treatments or hair straightening with keratin.

As for the nail polish, it is better to read always and carefully the INCI. A lot of cosmetic brands have decided to ban the formaldehyde and the resin from their products and often, in these cases, this is reported on the package. But other brands keep on using these substances, for this reason pay attention to the label, also if the product is well known, moreover, it may happen that among the products of the same brand some cosmetics are formaldehyde free and other products, on the contrary, can contain it. For what concerns the hair straightening treatments, the effects of these products are based on the action of formaldehyde. Although in several Countries such as Italy, Canada or Australia the usage of formaldehyde has important limitations, this limit is generally set to 0.2%. When you dry your hair you are still exposed to fumes of formaldehyde that, even in very small quantities, in the long period may be dangerous. In general, the advice is to avoid these products, or at least to avoid them for a long period or, as an alternative, you can choose treatments without formaldehyde and based on plant based keratin, the effect will be less impressive but health is worth much more than a straight hair.

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