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Controversial Ingredients: One Brand’s Perspective

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: November 29, 2011, from the December 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 2 of 11

The ideal preservative should have the following properties:

  • A broad-spectrum antimicrobial effect at low concentrations and optimal pH;
  • Combination of bactericidal and fungicidal effects;
  • Low allergenicity and toxicity, and be nonirritating;
  • Stability and water solubility;
  • Compatibility with other ingredients (i.e., be both odorless and colorless); and
  • Ease of use.

In 1987, a study was undertaken on 5,202 patients tested for possible contact dermatitis upon application of cosmetics; 5.9% of this population was shown to be intolerant to cosmetics. The principal allergens were fragrances and preservatives—in particular, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers.2

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasers

What are they? While formaldehyde is a preservative that has both bactericidal and fungicidal activities, it is a strong skin sensitizer. Deutsches Institut für Medizinische Dokumentation und Information—German Institut of Medical Documentation and Information (DIMDI)—classifies formaldehyde in groups A or C, meaning it has a strong potential to provoke contact allergies.3 Its use has been abandoned in cosmetics except in nail hardeners. Formaldehyde has been replaced by formaldehyde releasers, which are easier to handle and less likely to lead to contact allergies. These formaldehyde releasers are named: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.

Why the bad reputation? Formaldehyde releasers generate formaldehyde particularly when in contact with water. The chemical reaction causing the release of formaldehyde depends on many factors, i.e., pH of the formula, solution temperature and duration of product storage. All compounds do not release formaldehyde in equal amounts, which makes the assessment of the formaldehyde percentage truly present in the product during its use rather inaccurate.

Should they be replaced? Probably. Formaldehyde is an allergen (class A of DIMDI). The Japanese Ministry of Health has prohibited the use of formaldehyde, and in the European Union formaldehyde is a Category 3 CMR (Carcinogen, Mutagen or Toxic to reproduction). This regulatory framework could affect formaldehyde releasers in the near future. Alchimie Forever has not used formaldehyde releasers for a number of years.