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Steer clear! Why you should avoid hair products with formaldehyde

Posted by Jennifer Lewis on

Part 4 in our series on chemicals in hair products


Many chemicals pose potential hazards to humans, the environment or both (as we discussed in past blogs on parfum, sulfates and silicones). Which brings us to the chemical formaldehyde, a colorless gas that is flammable at room temperature. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors, are found in many hair products, like shampoo, conditioner and serums.


At Urban Spa, we prefer chemical free hair care products, which is why we only use natural ingredients in our sustainable hair products. You won’t find any formaldehyde here! Unfortunately, many hair care manufacturers do use formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors in their products, and while some include these chemicals on their ingredient lists, others do not, as this study revealed.


Hair Quiz


Why is formaldehyde used in hair products and is formaldehyde safe?


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors are used as a preservative in some hair products, like shampoo, conditioner and serums. Formaldehyde donors are released slowly throughout a product’s life cycle to keep the product fresh, as Unilever explains. Formaldehyde producing chemicals are used in many hair smoothing and straightening products, which can release formaldehyde gas into the air when heated, causing irritation to the eyes, nose and lungs according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


People who suffer from dermatitis and those who are sensitive to chemical irritants, may suffer from skin irritation if they use hair products with formaldehyde. The other tricky part (besides the fact that some manufacturers don’t list formaldehyde on their ingredient lists) is that formaldehyde and chemicals that release formaldehyde go by different names, so you’ll need to read ingredient lists carefully if you want to avoid formaldehyde.


The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a comprehensive list here.


Formaldehyde can also be hazardous to the environment (it usually breaks down quickly, releasing formic acid and carbon dioxide) and can be toxic to wild life. According to the National Pollutant Inventory of the Australian government, “When animals are exposed to formaldehyde it can make them sick, affect their ability to breed, and reduce their life spans. It can also change their behaviour and appearance. Formaldehyde is highly toxic to aquatic life—the fish, shellfish and other creatures in our rivers, lakes and oceans.”


Is it legal to use formaldehyde in hair products?


While using a small amount of formaldehyde in personal care products is legal in Canada and the U.S., the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. Again, some manufacturers don’t even list formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals on their labels, so it’s hard to tell who is complying with safety regulations and who is not.


Your best bet is to opt for sustainable, natural hair products


Like the salon quality, formaldehyde free hair products from Urban Spa! To shop our sustainable hair products safely and with confidence, visit the Urban Spa online shop today!

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