The Scariest Thing Lurking in Your Home

Boo! Halloween is here again, and soon the little ghosts, witches, and goblins will be haunting your doorstep, ringing the bell, asking for candy. The pumpkins are carved, the spider webs are everywhere, and in the air is the smell of creepy, scary ... formaldehyde? 

Formaldehyde is best known as the "preservative" of choice for undertakers everywhere. Unfortunately, the main ingredient in embalming fluid is also found in and around your home, on your clothes, and in the cosmetics that you apply to your skin. Worse yet, it can even be found in baby care products like shampoos and lotions.

Creepy factor aside, there are real risks to constant exposure to this toxic preservative. According to the National Cancer Institute, " Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

The health effects of exposure to formaldehyde can include watery, burning eyes, burning sensations in the throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing - and that is at low levels (0.1 parts per million.) Higher levels of exposure can trigger asthma attacks, skin rashes, and severe allergic reactions. 

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant. Inside your home, it can be found in pressed-wood products, such as hardwood plywood wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard, and in furniture made from these pressed-wood products. Formaldehyde is also used to add permanent press qualities to clothing and draperies. 

Formaldehyde also lurks inside cosmetics and personal care products. Nearly 1 in 5 cosmetic products contain a substance that generates formaldehyde, according to data from the federal Food and Drug Administration. You may think that you are safe from this harmful chemical if you don't see it listed on the label of your personal care products. Instead of using this preservative directly, cosmetic companies will use "formaldehyde releasers": chemicals that, when added to water, will decompose over time to form molecules of formaldehyde. 

Chemicals that release formaldehyde include:

  • • DMDM hydrantoin
  • • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • • Diazolidinyl urea
  • • Quaternium-15
  • • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
  • • 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
  • • Hydroxymethylglycinate

These chemicals can be found even in the "pure" and "gentle" products you use to bathe and pamper your baby with. Baby bubble bath, baby lotions, and baby shampoos can contain these ingredients. This last year, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would cease adding formaldehyde releasers to its products. Johnson & Johnson is one of the world's largest manufacturers of baby care and adult skin and hair care products. 

The Environmental Working Group has a Skin Deep Database of over 78,000 products that have been analyzed and rated, to empower consumers to find out exactly what is in their cosmetics and personal care products and the effects of the chemicals within. If you have any questions about the personal care products you are using on yourself and on your children, the Skin Deep Database is a great tool to educate yourself on their safety. 

The best way to protect yourself and your family from the "scary stuff" in your homes and in your products is to be informed. The more you know, the better you are able to choose what comes into your home and what stays out. 

Have a safe (and spooky) Halloween!

Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods




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