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What is Formaldehyde and why should you avoid it?

DMDM Hydantoin is a word that you have probably heard if your TikTok consists of everything beauty like mine does. Tiktokers have found this chemical in many beauty products, although it should be avoided.  DMDM Hydantoin is just one form of formaldehyde…meaning that, yes, there are others (ugh). This article will help break down why formaldehydes are bad and how you can avoid them. 

Formaldehydes are a type of preservative used to extend the shelf life of many products at an inexpensive price. Formaldehydes become dangerous when in gas form, as they can cause irritation and coughing (this form of formaldehyde is found in tobacco). The biggest concern surrounding formaldehydes is that they can be carcinogenic. Although we may not be inhaling our beauty products, our skin is able to absorb chemicals, which over time can build up in our bodies. 

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Many beauty products contain this chemical, including body wash, soap, makeup, lotion, and sunscreen, among others. The products that contain the most formaldehyde are nail polish removers, old fashion straightening products, and keratin treatments. Recently, there have been several lawsuits against popular shampoo companies TRESemme and Suave that both use formaldehyde releasers in their products. The lawsuit entails that many people who have used these products have been exposed to hair loss and scalp burn or irritation, especially following the use of their keratin products. DMDM Hydantoin has become well-known, as this was the main formaldehyde used in these hair products.

But these aren’t the only brands that use this chemical in their products. Many other drugstore brands as well as high-end shampoos have formaldehydes in them under different names. Methylene gycole, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, bronopol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3 dioxane, and hydroxymethylglycinate are all names of the various forms of formaldehyde releasers. 

While many of these chemicals are found near the end of the ingredient list, research is inconclusive as to whether small amounts of these preservatives are harmful long-term. Searching for clean beauty at Sephora is your best bet for guaranteeing that products are formaldehyde-free as well as sulfate- and paraben-free. There are a few drugstore options but be sure to check the labels for any toxic ingredients. After all, when it comes to hair and beauty products, it’s better safe than sorry!

Breanne McNeil

U Ottawa '23

Breanne is a Criminology student in Canada hoping to further her experience as an author in Her Campus.
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