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Controversial Ingredients: Setting the Record Straight

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: January 30, 2012, from the February 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Formaldehyde-releasers have a bad reputation because they generate formaldehyde, particularly when in contact with water. The chemical reaction causing the release of formaldehyde depends on many factors, such as the pH of the formula, the solution temperature and the 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.

What are the alternatives? See the following information regarding the alternatives of parabens.


Parabens have been used to replace more controversial preservatives, including formaldehyde-releasers. Parabens have been the subject of numerous studies that have established, in addition to their broad spectrum of action against microorganisms, their efficacy, stability and lack of side effects.

Parabens have a bad reputation because, in the late 1990s, several studies suggested that parabens had an estrogenic activity.3 Then, in 2004, British researchers detected traces of parabens in breast tumor tissue samples.4 In this study, parabens were extracted from breast tumor tissue samples and individual paraben molecules were identified, quantified and compared to those present in a control group, obtained with the same procedures of extraction but without breast tumors. Parabens were found in higher concentrations in the breast tumor tissue samples than in the control samples, but the latter also contained considerable concentrations of parabens.

Do You Know Everything You Need to Know About Preservatives and Regulatory?

What are twelve important criteria for the 'ideal' preservative or preservative system? What are seven principles of HACCP? Do you know the twelve properties of 'natural' preservatives? Could you use more information on global regulations?

Be prepared! Keep David Steinberg's new book, Preservatives for Cosmetics, Third Edition, close at hand at the start of your next project.

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