Formaldehyde

Girl applying lipstick

About formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a chemical used by industries to manufacture building materials and a variety of consumer products.

How am I exposed?
Formaldehyde is a gas, which is emitted into the air from products containing the chemical. Therefore, you can be exposed to formaldehyde by breathing in air containing formaldehyde. However, people can also absorb formaldehyde through their skin and eating. Formaldehyde is also found in resins used to manufacture wood products, insulation, and household products such as glues, paints, lacquers and cosmetics (e.g. nail polish, nail glue hair gel, body soap, & color cosmetics). It has also been detected in baby shampoo and clothing. Tobacco smoke, gas stoves and kerosene space heaters are other sources of exposure.

Why should I be concerned?
Formaldehyde exposure has been linked to some types of cancers. Ingestion of formaldehyde can be fatal and long-term exposure to low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching.

What can government and business do?

  • State and federal governments should pass legislation that restricts the use of formaldehyde in consumer products.
  • Businesses should find and sell products that do not contain formaldehyde. They can also communicate with manufacturers and ask them to find a safer alternative to formaldehyde.

How can I reduce my exposure?

  • Look for products that are formaldehyde-free
  • Avoid manufactured wood products
  • Avoid wrinkle-free and/or pre-shrunk clothing
  • Make sure you have good ventilation
  • Stay away from color cosmetics
  • Look for cosmetics labeled “formaldehyde-free” or “toxic-trio-free”

Additional Resources
OSHA: Formaldehyde
EPA: Facts about Formaldehyde
NRDC: Congress Must Provide the EPA with Authority to Regulate Unsafe Chemicals: Formaldehyde
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Formaldehyde

 

Washington Toxics Coalition provided content for this page.