Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Ask Dr. Desai

Tips for buying green personal care products:

This is the second of many articles wherein I will discuss ingredients that you need to avoid in products.  In the second installation of this series, I wanted to cover formaldehyde releasers such as DMDM Hydantoin, which should be avoided whenever possible.

What are formaldehyde releasers such as DMDM Hydantoin? Formaldehyde releasers are chemicals that slowly release formaldehyde (HCHO) over time.   Formaldehyde is a gas and cannot be used directly, so the industry has relied on chemistry to make this commercially viable via formaldehyde releasers.

What is the purpose of formaldehyde releasers in personal care products?   In practice, formaldehyde releasers are used alone or in combination with other preservatives such as parabens, to provide broad spectrum anti-microbial preservative action.  These compounds release formaldehyde over time and it is this formaldehyde which is responsible for the anti-microbial action.

What kind of products are formaldehyde releasers found in?   These releasers are found in several personal care products, industrial products, textiles and pharmaceuticals. Besides DMDM Hydantoin, the following formaldehyde releasers are commonly used: quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, bronopol (2-bromo- 2-nitropropane-1,3-diol), Grotan BK (tris(N-hydroxyethyl) hexahydrotriazine), and hexamine (methenamine).  As far as personal care products go, formaldehyde releasers are found in shampoos, makeup, creams and lotions, moisturizers, etc.

What health risks are associated with formaldehyde releasers?   While formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance found in many fruits or produced by our bodies in the process of breaking down carbohydrates into sugars in our saliva, large amounts of formaldehyde has been identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to be carcinogenic to humans. Chemically, formaldehyde gas when dissolved in water forms methylene glycol, a completely separate substance. However, even small amount of formaldehyde gas when released by the formaldehyde releaser in the personal care product can exhibit predictable antimicrobial action.

While exposure to formaldehyde gas at levels used by the industry in personal care liquid formulas is very unlikely, allergic reactions to products that contain formaldehyde releasers are more prevalent. These products have been shown to cause contact dermatitis or related skin irritations such as eczema, which are forms of allergic reaction. It is considered that a concentration of over 200 ppm is probably enough to induce allergic contact dermatitis, and is not uncommon for many personal care products to have levels over 200 ppm.

Are there safe levels?   Formaldehyde is a restricted ingredient in personal care products in Canada. It cannot be added in concentrations greater than 0.2% in most products. However, there is no restriction on the low-levels of formaldehyde released by DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, nor on the use of these ingredients themselves. Other International regulations are stronger. In the European Union formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics must be identified on the product label with the notice, “contains formaldehyde” if the concentration of formaldehyde in the product exceeds 0.05%. In the US, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel, an industry supported  group (which also includes the FDA as a non-voting member) reviewed the safety of DMDM hydantoin and concluded it was safe for use in cosmetic products.  Unlike the EU or Japan, US labeling laws do not require formulations containing formaldehyde releasers to notify the consumer with a clearer, “contains formaldehyde” notice.

So try and choose formulas that are formaldehyde releaser free, however, buyer beware, while they may be formaldehyde releaser free, those products may contain other ingredients that you need to avoid as well.  So stay tuned for the next monthly installation of this series to learn about what else you need to be on the lookout for and avoid.

Dr. Vinay Desai is a naturalist and a pharmaceutical scientist with a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences, and an MBA. He holds 15+ patents & 15+ publications in a wide variety of scientific disciplines and has invented novel targeted therapeutic agents. Dr. Desai is the co-founder and CEO of Dr. Desai Soap which is a manufacturer of premium all natural goat’s milk ayurvedic herbal skin care solutions. Dr. Desai Soap is a Green America Approved business. Dr. Desai is a naturalist who lives on a family owned solar powered farm in Tewksbury NJ featured in the New Jersey Country Side Magazine. Through community awareness programs, Dr. Desai has helped educate people in the sustainable practices of using solar power and green personal care products.

Let Dr Desai answer your questions about natural personal care products.  Please send your questions to [email protected] or call 908-236-6742. For more information, visit

Receive Free Digital Issues! Sent Monthly To Your Inbox!


Hug A Mate
Dig Business
Learn More About Natural Awakenings
Follow Us On Facebook