Some of you might not heard of it, some of you might do. Formaldehyde is a pretty common ingredient for over-the-counter products found in personal care and cosmetics. But do you know what the role of formaldehyde is in these products? It is widely used as a preservative.

One great example of formaldehyde use is in preserving cadavers – dead human bodies, by medical students for their anatomy courses! Since it does a good job in preserving those cadavers, some cosmetics company took this idea to apply the same method into preserving their personal care and cosmetics products. *yikes*

Formaldehyde can be directly added into personal care products or more often it is released from formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP). FRP or known as, formaldehyde releasers or donors, are the chemicals that produce or release formaldehyde slowly overtime throughout the shelf-life of skincare, personal care, and cosmetics products. It is release slowly as a way to prevent harmful mould and bacteria or microbes from growing in water-based products.

Since formaldehyde in low levels are a cause for concern, FRP is also a cause for health concern through the release of formaldehyde in small amount over time.

A few example of formaldehyde releasers or donors commonly found in skincare and personal care product are:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • Glyoxal

DMDM Hydantoin

DMDM hydantoin is an odourless, white, crystalline substance. It is added in most skincare or personal care products by working slowly in preventing products from going bad. It is also used as an anti-microbial agent. When it is used as an anti-microbial agent in skincare, personal care, and cosmetics products, it can help prevent the growth of fungi, yeast, and harmful bacteria in those products.

It is usually found in lotion, suncscreen, and make up remover.

According to Cosmetics Directive of the European Union, the maximum concentration of DMDM hyadantoin allowed in cosmetics and personal care products is 0.6%. It is a must for skincare, personal care, and cosmetics products in Europe to label their products with words “contains formaldehyde if the concentration of the finished product is more than 0.05%.

ChemicalSafetyFacts.org states that the amount of formaldehyde released from formaldehyde donor when you are shampooing your hair is equal to the amount of formaldehyde naturally occurring in one medium-sized apple or pear.

Imidazolidinyl Urea

Imidazolidinyl urea is usually combined with parabens to provide a broad spectrum of preservative system. Imidazolidinyl urea is commonly found in water-based liquid and powder products, such as, foundations, skin creams, sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes, shaving creams, face masks, blushers, deodorants, and perfumes.

A person can be exposed to imidazolinyl urea through dermal contact when using personal care products. Leaving the products on the skins for hours provide such a sufficient time for absorption of imidazolidinyl urea into the body. It is known as a human allergen.

Diazolidinyl Urea

Diazolidinyl urea is mostly found in shampoo, conditioner, blusher, eye shadow, and lotion, and it is known as human allergen.

Studies done by Cosmetic Ingredient Review has shown that diazolidinyl urea is safe to be used if it is used less than the maximum concentration of 0.5%. In the European Union, the concentration of diazolidinyl urea in the finished product must not be over 0.05%. Personal care, skincare, and cosmetics products must clearly state that they “contain formaldehyde” in their label ingredients. Diazolidinyl urea releases the most formalydehyde of any FRP.


Quaternium-15 is a quaternary ammonium salt used as a preservative and acts as an FRP. It is commonly found in shampoo, conditioner, eye liner, makeup remover, and eye shadow. The European Union has determined that this ingredient maybe not be safe for usage in cosmetics products.

There is also a strong evidence done through studies by Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessment that quaternium-1 is a known human skin and eyes toxicant or allergen.


Glyoxal is commonly found in conditioner, lotion, nail polish, and nail treatment. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review Expert Panel has declared that glyoxal is a skin allergen.

Studies have shown that the second most common cause of contact dermatitis to cosmetics are preservatives in the cosmetics. Those who have sensitive skin are strongly recommended to stay away from products containing the FRP. The formaldehyde releases from the FRPs are commonly mix with water and instantly convert into methylene glycol.

In our previous blog, http://mymiracolo.com/cancer-causing-formaldehyde/, prolonged exposure of formaldehyde may cause blood cancer and nasal sinuses. It can also cause burning sensation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Skin sensitization is highly possible since formaldehyde has been categorised as a strong human allergen with the high possibility of sensitising the skin for those with sensitive or allergy skin.

It is undeniable that we need preservatives, especially in water-based personal care and cosmetic products. This is because we can find millions of bacterial and contaminant in our environment. Exposing them to natural air and surrounding can accelerate spoilage and cause more harm to our skin and body. Therefore, the need of these preservatives in personal care and cosmetics products.

Alternatively, you might want to consider the following paraben-formaldehyde free preservatives in in your favourite personal care and cosmetics products.

  • Benzethonium chloride
  • Benzoic acid
  • Hydantoin
  • Optiphen
  • Phenoxyethanol

If you prefer natural ingredients, are health-conscious or practice a green lifestyle, you might want to consider the following natural preservatives! Just look up for these natural ingredients preservatives in your personal care and cosmetics products on the ingredients label.

  • Anisic acid – An organic molecule commonly found in anis-seed, a common food spice and it is a great preservative with anti-fungal properties
  • Biosecur – A 100% natural preservative made from citrus extract which contains active bioflavonoids for preservation and antimicrobial activities
  • Dehydroacetic acid – A great preservatives that work with pH below 6 (slightly acidic).
  • Glyceryl caprylate – A co-emulsifier that is mainly used to stabilise oil-in-water-emulsions and is produced from various vegetable oils. Help to restores oils of the skin regulates the skin moisture, and acts as a humidifier to the skin
  • Glyceryl undecylenate – Derived from a combination of castor bean oil and rapeseed derived glycerine. Acts as an emulsifier and antimicrobial agents with skin conditioning properties.
  • Sorbic acid – A natural compound is that is also made synthetically. First isolated from berries, it is widely used as a preservatives in food and also cosmetics due to its antimicrobial properties

So, yes, preservatives in personal care and cosmetics products, especially those water-based products, go hand in hand to prolong the shelf-life by acting as an antimicrobial agent for those products to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.

You can decide if you want to opt for synthetic, harmful preservatives in your personal care and cosmetics products OR choosing ingredients that are clean and safe to be used. Be an informed consumers to decide what the best is for yourselves and your loved ones!












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