Is it possible to hide formaldehyde in a product

Brands that hide formaldehyde


EWG has investigated 16 companies that make hair-straightening products with high formaldehyde content. All exceed safety limits set by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry safety panel. Which hair straighteners come clean about their formaldehyde content?  None, in EWG’s review.

15 of 16 brands admit to little to no formaldehyde. Tests show their products contain substantial amounts.

Companies whose claims and tests do not match include Brazilian Blowout, Keratin Express, KeraGreen, Tahe and R&L. The 16th company, Goleshlee, admits on its website that its product contains formaldehyde but omits the toxic chemical from its online ingredient list.

Can hair straighteners get away with the claim “formaldehyde free?”

Name games

Leading hair straighteners, including Brazilian Blowout, claim that formaldehyde mixed with water creates a new chemical, methylene glycol.  That is like saying that sweet tea does not contain sugar. In fact, when you purchase straight formaldehyde from a chemical company, you are actually buying a formaldehyde-water mixture. Over time, if exposed to air, the formaldehyde will off-gas, in other words, reverting to a gas, its natural state at room temperature.

When its scientists conduct risk assessments, the Environmental Protection Agency calls this formaldehyde/water mixture a “pool of free formaldehyde” (EPA 2010B). The American Chemistry Council says the scientific community widely considers methylene glycol to be “formaldehyde in solution” for the purpose of determining a product’s formaldehyde content (ACC 2010). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s formaldehyde regulations cover formaldehyde gas and “its solutions, and materials that release formaldehdye” (OSHA 1992).

Some makers of hair straighteners  – Brazilian Blowout, Cadiveu, Global Keratin and Marcia Teixeira – make the misleading claim that methylene glycol is not formaldehyde.  Altogether, four companies list “methylene glycol” on their websites or worker safety materials.


Misleading tests

Cadiveu and Brazilian Blowout bolster their low-formaldehyde claims by analyzing only the tiny amounts of formaldehyde gas in their products.  They ignore the products’ formaldehyde-water solution, even though some of it is transformed to gas when hair coated with the product is heated by a straightening iron.  That explains why Cadiveu reports formaldehyde levels of 0.0002 percent, when Heath Canada found it to contain 7 percent formaldehyde (Cadiveu 2011, Health Canada 2010C).


Other names

At least two companies disguise formaldehyde with obscure names known only to chemists – and not many of them.  For example, Keratin Express  says its hair straighteners “contain an aldehyde” (Keratin Expres 2011).  Tests show up to 1.2 percent formaldehyde in its products. Bravo Biocare’s product, Organic Thermo Fusion – Brazilian Keratin Treatment, describes formaldehyde as “morbicid acid” (Bravo Biocare 2011).


Formaldehyde releasers

Some companies use chemicals that are not, strictly speaking, formaldehyde but that break down to formaldehyde and release the chemical into the air when they are heated. Coppola says its hair straightener contains a “bonded aldehyde” that, when heated, decomposes and binds to the hair (Copolla 2010).   Hot vapors steaming off  heated hair as the chemical coating breaks apart would test positive for formaldehyde.  Trichovedic, an Australian company that markets HydroSpa products, sidestepped regulations and reformulated to a formaldehyde-free product that now uses formaldehyde-releasing chemicals after product testing found formaldehyde.



IBS Beauty and Spazzola are mum about their use of formaldehyde. EWG researchers found no formaldehyde claims one way or the other, on either company’s website or media reports.

The vast majority of products surveyed by EWG – 64 of 95 – have not been tested for formaldehyde.  Most companies that manufacture keratin hair straighteners – 43 of 46 – do not disclose they have used this hazardous chemical.

Government and indepedent laboratories have detected formaldehyde above industry-recommended safe limits in 28 of 31 products tested. So if you are wondering about a brand that has not been tested, odds are formaldehyde is in that bottle.

It is not just customers who are being hoodwinked. Misleading claims help manufacturers and salons avoid OSHA regulations that require employers to list formaldehyde on worker safety materials (technically called material safety data sheets or MSDS) when their employees handle solutions containing more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde.


TABLE: 15 of 16 companies claim little to no formaldehyde when tests show their products contain substantial amounts




Brazilian BlowoutPrior to [2/13/2011]: “CONTAINS NO FORMALDEHYDE!” As of [3/1/2011]: There is no mention of the word formaldehyde on the website or the material safety data sheet that continues to list Methylene Glycol.Formaldehyde levelsup to 11.8%Oregon OSHA 2010A, Oregon OSHA 2010B, IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B, Fisher 2007, Health Canada 2010B

CoppolaIn addition to the Keratin, our formula includes Timonacic acid, a benign antioxidant patented in France which is part of an aldehyde group that is used in hair products and acts as an organic preservative… The difference between Brazilian straightening companies that add free formaldehyde as an ingredient and Keratin Complex’s bonded aldehydes is that the latter is not harmful.Formaldehyde levels up to 2.3%ACCC 2010, AFSSAPS 2010, Columbia Analytical Services 2010, FDA FOIA 2010, Health Canada 2010C, IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B, Oregon OSHA 2010B, RAPEX 2010

Marcia TeixeiraMethylene glycol, which does not appear on the FDA’s official list of prohibited cosmetic ingredients, is the ingredient in our treatments that will produce a trace level of formaldehyde vapor when high heat is applied. For that reason, we can state that formaldehyde is not an ingredient in our treatments, but, we cannot, and have never claimed that they are formaldehyde free.Formaldehyde levels up to 3.4% (potentially up to 5.87%)ACCC 2010, AFSSAPS 2010, Columbia Analytical Services 2010, FDA FOIA 2010, Health Canada 2010C, Irish NCA 2010, Oregon OSHA 2010B, Fisher 2007

Global KeratinSince the inception of Global Keratin the company has been in full compliance with all regulations worldwide and never made any false claims. In our old formulas Global Keratin used Methylene Glycol (CAS: 463-57-0) in our products.Formaldehyde levels up to 4.4%Columbia Analytical Services 2010, Health Canada 2010C, IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B

Silkening TechnologiesNo formaldehyde, no unpleasant fumes or odours. Just frizz-free, beautiful hair that stays smooth and manageable for months.  (Canadian website)Formaldehyde level of 2.8%Health Canada 2010C

IBS Beautyi-Straight (Also known as Love-Straight), is the safest and most effective system for straightening the different types, conditions, and textures of light curls to the most stubborn kinky hair type.Formaldehyde level of 2.3%Health Canada 2010C

CadiveuBefore Cadiveu USA entered into its Distribution Agreement with Cadiveu Brazil, we were assured that Cadiveu’s chemists were not relying on formaldehyde in their formulas. To confirm this, we hired an independent lab to test the products thoroughly. The results of this test confirmed that the formula does not contain formaldehyde as a functional ingredient in the hair smoothing process. As a result we felt confident that we were offering a safe product, which is our primary concern.


Cadiveu’s panel of experts explains, “Formaldehyde is a gas and therefore cannot be added to a cosmetic as an ingredient. In fact, Formaldehyde has never been a cosmetic ingredient. Most test methods commonly used, are not suitable for measuring Formaldehyde in water-based cosmetic products. Formaldehyde is extremely unlikely in a water-based cosmetic product to exist beyond 0.005%.”

Formaldehyde level of 7%Health Canada 2010C

R & L“None of our products contain any fomaldehyde. They are all fomaldehyde FREE.”Formaldehyde level > 0.2%IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B

TaheFormol FreeFormaldehyde level > 0.2%IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B

Brazilan GlossKeratin treatment does not make use of any harsh chemicals.  … At-home kits for keratin treatments are also available. The price for at-home kits starts from $250.


For getting this treatment done, always consult a professional stylist. Knowledge about this treatment in advance can also help you in making a smarter choice. If the treatment is done properly, it will leave even the most rough hair look smooth and very easy to style.


Whether you get this treatment done at a salon or use an at-home kit, make sure that that keratin product you use contains less than 2% formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde level up to 7.3%Columbia Analytical Services 2010, Oregon OSHA 2010B

Keratin expressThe current Keratin Express formula contains no known formaldehyde or formaldehyde donors. To confirm this, we had an independent lab conduct tests to measure any detectable formaldehyde both at room temperature and when heated to 450 degrees for five minutes. The testing confirmed no formaldehyde with the exception of a trace amount (.00017%), attributable to possible residual from other product filling or cleaning on our production line.Formaldehyde level of 1.2%Oregon OSHA 2010B

QODUnlike formaldehyde-based keratin treatments, QOD’s Brazilian Keratin products do not contain industrially manufactured raw formaldehyde. Instead, we have invested ten years of research in a patented process that mimics the effects of formaldehyde, and is readily accepted by the FDA. Still, we choose not to market our products as “formaldehyde free.” This is usually a disingenuous marketing gimmick, and potentially even harmful.Formaldehyde level up to 3.5%Oregon OSHA 2010B, FDA FOIA 2010

KeraGreenOur exclusive formulation – non toxic, formaldehyde free, rich with organic and natural ingredients – sets us apart from all other keratin hair treatments in the market and makes us relevant in a time when Green is in!Formaldehyde level of 1.6%Oregon OSHA 2010B

Simply Smooth American Culture Hair“No! This is formaldehyde free.”Formaldehyde level up to 0.93%Columbia Analytical Services 2010

GoleshleeIn the FAQ section of the Goleshlee website it is stated that the products contain 2% formaldehyde.  No information on the keratin product pages and no mention of formaldehyde is given in the product ingredient lists.Formaldehyde level> 0.6%AFSSAPS 2010

Spazzola ProgressivaNo information about the use of formaldehyde is providied.Formaldehyde level> 0.6%AFSSAPS 2010


Many experts debunk hair straightener makers’ claims that the formaldehyde-water solution “methylene glycol”  is not formaldehyde:

American Chemistry Council

The chemical industry trade group’s formaldehyde panel, which represents the “producers, users, and suppliers of formaldehyde and formaldehyde products,” takes the position that “the scientific community widely considers methylene glycol as ‘formaldehyde in solution.’ Thus, both formaldehyde gas and formaldehyde reacted in water determine the formaldehyde content of a product” (ACC 2010).

Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration

This Oregon state agency asserts that “a hyper-technical argument over appropriate chemical nomenclature does not alter the applicable workplace health and safety requirements, nor should it be allowed to disguise the risks” (Oregon OSHA, 2010B).

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA’s workplace safety standards for formaldehyde cover “all occupational exposures to formaldehyde, i.e. from formaldehyde gas, its solutions, and materials that release formaldehyde” (OSHA 1992).

Environmental Protection Agency

In the EPA draft risk assessment for formaldehyde, the agency describes the mechanism by which formaldehyde solutions result in free formaldehyde exposures. It says that in a living organism, free formaldehyde leaves the water solution and binds with serum proteins and cellular components” (EPA 2010B).

EPA uses the term “formaldehyde” to cover both free formaldehyde gas and methylene glycol, or formaldehyde solution, on its inventory of chemicals manufactured or imported into the U.S. (EPA 2010A).


Dr. Alan Schusterman, a chemistry professor at Reed College, writes, “if I am exposed to methylene glycol, will I be exposed to formaldehyde? The answer to this is unequivocally YES. [The] equilibrium, Formaldehyde + Water = Methylene Glycol, is completely reversible at room temperature and methylene glycol spontaneously decomposes to make formaldehyde + water.  I can think of no simpler way to expose a person to formaldehyde than to expose [him] to a methylene glycol solution” (Shusterman 2010).

Health agencies

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, Health Canada, Irish Medicines Board, French Agency for the Safety of Health Products, and agencies in Germany and Cyprus have collectively recalled 22 products (ACCC 2010, AFSSAPS 2010, Health Canada 2010B, Health Canada 2010C, IMB 2010A, IMB 2010B, Irish NCA 2010, RAPEX 2010).

Cosmetics industry

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded and self-policing body, originally assessed the safety of formaldehyde in 1984 and re-reviewed its safety in 2003. Its current recommendation is that use should be “limited to 0.2% as free formaldehyde but [kept] to a minimum; and should not be used in products intended to be aerosolized” (CIR 2010A). In 2010 the international nomenclature committee of the Personal Care Products Council added methylene glycol to a list of cosmetic ingredients separate from formaldehyde (PCPC et al. 2010).

The panel reached tentative conclusions in its March 2011 meeting. The chemical name “formaldehyde” was replaced with “formaldehyde/methylene glycol.” The CIR also determined that formaldehyde should not be used in products intended to be aerosolized to include products that would produce formaldehyde/methylene glycol vapor or gas under conditions of use. This conclusion would effectively prohibit the use of these ingredients in hair-straightening products at any level (CIR 2011B).



A little background on the chemistry of formaldehyde goes a long way in understanding the fallacy of hair-straighteners’ “formaldehyde-free” boasts.

Formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature (NIST, 2008).  To make handling easier it is usually mixed with water and sold as a liquid labeled “formalin” or “formaldehyde solution.”  A molecule of water reacts with a molecule of formaldehyde to form methylene glycol (also referred to as methanediol, formaldehyde monohydrate, or formaldehyde in water). Very little free formaldehyde remains as a gas in solution, but the reaction is fast and completely reversible.  For every molecule of free formaldehyde that remains in the solution, there will be 1,820 molecules of methylene glycol (Dasgupta 1986).  If an analyst measures only the gaseous formaldehyde in solution the result will be 1,820 lower than the actual amount of available formaldehyde, because methylene glycol reverts to free formaldehyde almost immediately upon contact with air or skin.

When free formaldehyde evaporates from solution or reacts with skin,  the remaining methylene glycol solution will release more free formaldehyde gas nearly instantaneously.  This process will repeat until the methylene glycol is completely gone.  Heat from hair driers and flat irons speeds the reaction.  A hair-straightening session will release significant amounts of formaldehyde gas.

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Working with formaldehyde

I have been working with products containing formaldehyde since 2007-2008. Done many Brazilian Keratin treatments, visited Brazil numerous occasion , where I spent time in factories, done exhibitions, and talked and visited many manufacturers. Me and my team tested probably 50-60 companies products, launched our own brand and distributed Brazilian Keratin products. In the past years I’ve done extensive research, teached my technique internationally and been asked by many beauty editors on my view on Formaldehyde. I know many stylist and customers who loves the effect of Formaldehyde, I am neither supporting or condoning using such products, the below is just my thoughts on formol and a way I am using it in salon. My treatment does not release extensive amount of formaldehyde in the air, and does not cause discomfort. However I have experienced and seen colleagues and costumers experiencing discomfort caused by formaldehyde and I think regularly  being/working in an environment  where large amount of formaldehyde is released it is unhealthy.

I urge every stylist to do they own research before using products contain formal or release formaldehyde.

So what is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is an organic compound, a gas at room temperature, formaldehyde is colorless and has a characteristic pungent, irritating odor. It is an important precursor to many other materials and chemical compounds.  Commercial solutions of formaldehyde in water, commonly called formol, were formerly used as disinfectants and for preservation of biological specimens. It is commonly used in nail hardeners and/or nail varnish.

Where can we find formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is pretty much everywhere, you can find it in the air and the human body. According to a 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde is normally present in both indoor and outdoor air at low levels, usually less than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air (ppm).Formaldehyde and its adducts are ubiquitous in living organisms. It is formed in the metabolism of endogenous amino acids and is found in the bloodstream of humans and other primates at concentrations of approximately 0.1 millimolar.  Formaldehyde is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.

When dissolved in water, formaldehyde forms a hydrate, methanediol, with the formula H2C(OH)2. This also exists in equilibrium with various oligomers (short polymers), depending on the concentration and temperature. A saturated water solution, of about 40% formaldehyde by volume or 37% by mass, is called “100% formalin or formol“. A small amount of stabilizer, such as methanol, is usually added to suppress oxidation and polymerization. A typical commercial grade formalin may contain 10–12% methanol in addition to various metallic impurities.

Open Air method

I am a big fan of open air method, when the treatment is done in open air, when is possibility and using high heat I recommend the treatment to be performed outside a building.

This was the boring but needed bit, let’s get done to my theory

We are talking about two different substances Formaldehyde which is in the air, and Formal which is dissolved in water, so it’s in the product. Let’s look at Formalin,  in the beginning companies used up to 15% in their products. Formalin is not breathable but can touch your skin, go into your eyes, or in your mouth. It can cause irritation, redness, and skin sensitivity, and eye irritation (eye watering). The treatment not suppose to be applied on scalp, but away from the scalp, I haven’t seen any skin sensitivity for the product yet, but I can believe it’s exist. By smelling the product no one had anything bad happened, so I think we can agree that formal as it is in the treatment is harmless, until it becomes formaldehyde so it’s in the air.

The problem happens when formal becomes formaldehyde trough excess heat, that could be heat of straightening irons, or hair dryers. Using this heat the stylist release formaldehyde in the air. The effects of high formaldehyde level in the salon can cause eye irritation, nose irritation and breathing irritation, strong smell and uncomfortable smoky environment. This is short term exposure.

Blow drying, and  heat delivery method is dated, and it’s causes high level of formaldehyde in the air. I think the secret of the proper treatment is using the right amount of product to coat the hair, and use minimal heat, so we not creating extensive amount Formaldehyde in the salon. If heat not used, there is no/minimal Formaldehyde in the air, so the treatment is safer.

I developed a system which uses a different penetration methods, so we do not have to use extensive heat, whilst achieving the same or even better results without having to have large Formaldehyde levels in the air.

We sent detailed information to EU and USA hair, and health government bodies but tbh no one was interested to support a research and develop the safe use of the treatment. They only care about the Formol % in the product.

Cancer warnings

Although the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known, less is known about its potential long-term health effects. In 1980, laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. This finding raised the question of whether formaldehyde exposure could also cause cancer in humans. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure

Oregon OSHA conducted air monitoring during treatments using the Brazilian Blowout smoothing product at seven different salons where a single treatment was conducted over the course of the day. The 8-hour average exposures ranged from a low of 0.006 parts per million(ppm) to 0.33 ppm. These compare to a permissible exposure limit of 0.75 ppm. Although it was not exceeded for any of these stylists, it should be noted that multiple treatments would increase the daily average significantly.

The short term effects as mentioned before eye, nose and breathing irritation. If you a customer visiting a salon iI think one can only experience short term effects of formaldehyde, which can not cause cancer on it’s own.

If you a hairstylist you could read reports on the long term effect of formaldehyde tested on builders, painters and factory workers who actually continuously during working hours under high level of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde undergoes rapid chemical changes immediately after absorption. Therefore, some scientists think that formaldehyde is unlikely to have effects at sites other than the upper respiratory tract. However, some laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde may affect the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems.

To summarise after my studies and experiences, I don’t think Formaldehyde can cause an ongoing problem to the customer, when she/he is only exposed for a short time, but it can cause discomfort. I think stylist should start using a method which does not contain extensive heat and product over-use, so we do not  release large amount of Formedalhyde in the salon air. I think product companies who still sell products which contains Formal over the legal limit /there are many of them/, should think if it’s really worth it?!, and invest in research developing safe techniques.



Feel free to contact me regarding this article if you have any questions. zx





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