What Is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is used in a wide variety of cosmetics, including hair straighteners. The chemical is frequently found in water-based solutions and is commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries. Formaldehyde is also found is a number of products, including glues, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, fiberboard and plywood.

What are the potential health hazards of formaldehyde exposure?

Known as a “sensitizer,” formaldehyde can cause serious allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and lungs. It can cause allergic reactions with just a single exposure. The majority of exposures occur by inhalation or through skin and eye contact. You can also be exposed accidentally to the harmful chemical if you eat food, drink or touch your face after using a formaldehyde-containing product without first washing your hands. The World Health Organization (WHO) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

The frightening thing about formaldehyde is that it can cause an immediate adverse reaction after just one exposure. Short-term exposures can irritate the eyes and nose and cause coughing or wheezing. Continued exposure can cause severe allergic reactions in the eyes, skin or lungs.

Long-term exposure to even low levels of formaldehyde in the air can cause asthma-like symptoms, skin irritation, severe allergic reactions or breathing problems. This risk is of particular concern to hair stylists and salon workers who work around others who perform the Brazilian Blowout treatment regularly or who frequently perform the treatment on clients.

Formaldehyde exposure has been linked to nasal cancer and lung cancer.