Formaldehyde: Are You Exposed?

March 4th, 2015, in Living ToxicFree®, Education, Household Products, Health Risks

CBS recently aired a segment on 60 Minutes about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde in laminate wood flooring. As questions about this carcinogenic toxin in flooring are posed, the door opens wider, raising questions about what other products inside of our homes could be leaching this hazardous chemical and putting our health at serious risk.

Formaldehyde, according to the U.S National Toxicology Program, is classified as a human carcinogen.

This dangerous chemical has been linked to chronic respiratory irritation, asthma and several types of human cancers. Dr. Philip Landrigan, who specializes in environmental pediatrics at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, discussed formaldehyde concentrations in laminate flooring. He stated, “It’s not a safe level. It’s a level that the U.S. EPA calls polluted indoor conditions.”

Landrigan also says, “Most environmental causes of cancer are of sufficiently low risk that we don’t notice them in our daily lives.”

This information begs the question: besides flooring, what other items or products in your home might be releasing unnoticeable traces of formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde releasing agents can be found in various personal care products and cosmetics, which can make this extra tricky and dangerous for two reasons:

  1. According to data from the FDA, nearly 1 in 5 cosmetic products could contain a substance that generates formaldehyde.
     
  2. If you’re putting formaldehyde releasing ingredients on your skin, then you are not only inhaling the chemical, you're absorbing it through your body's largest organ, the skin.

Many preservatives and antimicrobials are formaldehyde releasers. Product companies choose these types of preservatives because they are very effective at preserving the product on the shelf. Unfortunately for us as consumers, they are also highly toxic to our bodies.

A few of the top formaldehyde-releasing ingredients to look out for include:

You may find these in a number of household products including cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care items like your shampoo, body lotion, hand soap and deodorant. Even some infant and children’s personal care products contain some of the ingredients above!

If checking all of your products for potential formaldehyde releasers overwhelms you, let EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database do the dirty work for you. There's even an app you can use when you're on-the-go!

Many find it’s just easier to choose products that promise they will never contain any toxic chemicals linked to diseases or other adverse health risks. For more ToxicFree® product options, check out some of the most scrutinized products in the world from the Healthy Home Company.


Update:

I received a question about the safety of formaldehyde when our bodies actually produce it. Our bodies do naturally produce formaldehyde to some degree. It is part of our body's biological processes, such as during DNA demethylation.
 
Unfortunately for us as public consumers, often the risk of a chemical present in food or everyday products (like laminate flooring with higher levels of Formaldehyde than the EPA feels is safe), isn't realized until consumers have been using these very products! Sometimes for years and years!
 
I haven't seen any research that suggests a concern that our bodies have "too little" formaldehyde. All of the medical journals, EPA, NIH, WHO and other significant health organizations, environmental experts and data show the concern for the degree of "unknown" exposure and links to adverse health effects.
 
I make my children wear seat belts and helmets—and I also try to avoid exposing them to foods or products that contain cariogenic chemicals.
 
Just as we know that diet and exercise (and seatbelts and helmets) limit our chances of adverse health effects or injury, thanks to growing research, we now also know that limiting our exposure to known toxic and cariogenic chemicals can lessen our odds to the adverse health problems they are linked too.
 

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