WE know that when it comes to all this green living stuff, ignorance can seem like bliss – and reading a fashion story can be way more fun that reading about toxins in the home! But we think it’s important to bring you insights from folks like MADE SAFE founder, Amy Ziff, on obvious offenders like formaldehyde.

It’s shocking to find out just how many home items can contain this known carcinogen! Definitely NOT cozy.

Famous for its role in the embalming process, find out where this chemical is lurking in home and beauty products below and find ways to cut it out of your life for your own well-being. Thank goodness green brands of nail polish, paint and furniture are becoming easier and easier to find…

What is it? Most people associate formaldehyde, a colorless, strong-smelling gas, with embalming fluid, as it’s used as a preservative in medical labs and mortuaries. It’s also common in pressed wood products like particleboard, furniture and cabinets. Given this, you might be surprised and somewhat alarmed to find out that it’s a common ingredient in baby care products, personal care products, nail polish and other salon products.

When it comes to personal care products, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are most often found in shampoos and liquid baby soaps. In salon products, it’s found in nail polish, nail hardener, nail glue and eyelash glue. It’s also common in many hair straighteners (and released with high heat during the application process).

What’s the concern? Short-term health impacts include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and many studies show it causes allergic skin reactions and skin rashes. In fact, it was awarded 2105 Contact Allergen of the Year by American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Long-term impacts are more serious. Formaldehyde is listed as a known carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. With products, given that formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are commonly found in salon products, salon workers (both nail technicians and stylists) are exposed to the chemical – and thus more impacted by the health problems it’s linked to.

When next buying furniture, repainting or remodeling, be aware that formaldehyde may be present and try to make greener choices in materials since these items are things we are around daily — and exposure over time really matter.

How do we avoid it?

Read labels for formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, quaternium-15, hydroxymethylglyconate and bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1-3-diol).

Look for nail polishes labeled “three-free,” which means they don’t contain the “toxic trio” of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene (although some tests have shown that some polishes making this claim still contain these chemicals, using “three-free” polishes is still widely considered a good step). Find Editor’s Picks here

For babies, choose simple products without preservatives that use ingredients that you can pronounce and recognize as safe. We recently certified shampoos and baby wash from Alaffia, making those a good alternative.

Avoid straighteners and smoothers. Given the prevalence of formaldehyde in chemical hair straighteners and smoothers, it’s best to avoid these altogether and opt for a hot iron.

Be aware of formaldehyde in pressed wood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and other hardwoods in your furniture.

Avoid wallpaper. Instead of wallpaper, which may require formaldehyde glues and toxic paints, use no-VOC paints, which are widely available now.

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  1. You forgot to mention the most dangerous place where formaldehyde is, in vaccines!!! Yes thats right I said it, the V word…but think about it…Does it make sense to fear formaldehyde in a mattress or nail polish but it would be perfectly normal injected???

    Isabelle M. | 07.28.2016 | Reply
  2. Some of these nasty chemicals do not appear on the labels. Such is the case with quaternium-15 for instance, a chemical that allows the fragrance to linger. These are found in most body care, hair care, laundry products and anything else that has a fragrance even mdisposable razors and garbage bags are scented now). Unfortunaly, reading labels is not enough, as manufacturers are not required to disclose the content of their fragrances and perfumes. This means anytime that you read fragrance, perfume or parfum (French name doesn’t make it better) on the label, there is no way to tell what chemicals are in there, but it sure ain’t good for you.
    About construction and home improvement materials: most contain formaldehyde. I am extremely sensitive to formaldehyde and in my experience, concrete will off-gas formaldehyde for at least two years. Anyone who wants to stay away from formaldehyde should never live in a brand new house. New home and office furniture also off-gas formaldehyde.
    About nail polishes: there is no such thing as non-toxic nail polish.

    DanielleB | 07.28.2016 | Reply
  3. FYI- the state of California has strict regulations for the formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products – furniture, flooring, etc. Otherwise known as the “CARB” regulations. They have been in effect since 2009. This applies to hardwood plywood, particleboard & MDF.

    Sharon | 07.28.2016 | Reply
  4. Which particular ingredients should we watch out for in chemical hair straighteners and smoothers that have formaldehyde? Does that apply to smoothing styling products? I use Aveda Smooth Infusion Nourishing Styling Creme to smooth my frizzy hair. Not sure if this contains formaldehyde ingredients but, if so, does anyone know of a safe substitute? Any help would be most appreciated! 🙂

    Blythe | 07.29.2016 | Reply
  5. Exactly! They have CA warnings on everything but nothing on vaccines, which it is mandated now to attend public school! Smh…

    Annabelle | 08.06.2016 | Reply
  6. check out the Think Dirty app- very useful for telling how carcinogenic products are, and you can find better alternatives on there too 🙂

    rachel | 09.14.2016 | Reply

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