Orville J. Stone, M.D. is a dermatologist practicing in Southern California. He has taught at medical schools for 30 years and has published 150 scientific papers. His first paper on nail disorders appeared in 1962.

Orville J. Stone, M.D. is a dermatologist practicing in Southern California. He has taught at medical schools for 30 years and has published 150 scientific papers. His first paper on nail disorders appeared in 1962.

Formaldehyde is a common environmental substance that is found in many everyday products, including cosmetics. A list of products containing formaldehyde would run for several pages. To give you an idea of its widespread use, new fabrics are high on the list and even this magazine page would have to be included.

Several years ago nail technicians expressed concern about the use of formaldehyde in nail polish and nail treatments because it is a know skin irritant and some people are allergic to it. However, I suspect that less than 1/10,000 of human exposure to formaldehyde comes from nail products.

Nail polish and nail treatments contain formaldehyde resin, which is a chemical compound that moleeularly bonds formaldehyde with another chemical, forming a chain. This bond holds the formaldehyde in the polish. Some nail hardeners also may contain formaldehyde that is not bonded in a resin. Formaldehyde resins are less likely to cause an allergic reaction than simple formaldehyde. A person can be sensitive to formaldehyde and not be sensitive to formaldehyde resins.

Many cosmetics also contain preservatives, which keep cosmetics from spoiling and which slowly release formaldehyde. However ingredient lists can be very confusing because the ingredients don’t necessarily include formaldehyde in their names.

The most common cosmetic ingredients that release formaldehyde are Bronidox. Bonopol, DMDM hydantoin, Gennall II (diazolidinylurea), and Tris (hydrovymethyl) nitrom-ethane. If you wear cosmetics you are probably being exposed to formaldehyde.

Exposure to formaldehyde is not a cause for great concern unless a person is allergic to it. A person allergic to formaldehyde can react to even very short exposures. For example, a number of years ago my wife and I met an Australian model who had a skin problem. The model knew that she was allergic to formaldehyde, but she didn’t realize that it was in cosmetic ingredients. When she switched to cosmetics that did not contain formaldehyde her skin condition improved markedly.

Get Rid Of It?


A panel study published in the journal of the American College of toxicology in 1984 Vol. 3. No. 3. Page 157 states that there is inadequate information to conclude that cosmetics composed of more than 0.2% formaldehyde are safe but the Food and Drug Administration FDA sees no reason to ban it from nail products.

The FDA Cosmetic Handbook (1991) states: “Although formaldehyde may be irritating to the skin or cause allergic reactions, the FDA does not object to its use as an ingredient of nail hardeners provided the product contains no more than 5% formaldehyde, provides the user with nail shields which restrict the application to the nail tip (and not the nail bed or fold), furnishes adequate directions for safe use, and warns consumers about the consequences of misuse and potential for causing adverse reactions in sensitized users.”

Diagnostic tests on clinical patients conducted by the No American Contact Dermatology Group showed that 4% of patients tested were allergic to formaldehyde. Once a person is allergic it, she can remain sensitive even every small exposures many years.

I see many patients who are allergic to formaldehyde formaldehyde-releasing age but I can’t specifically associate case with the use of nail harder I did have one patient who wash-and-wear clothing who so allergic to formaldehyde be to sell his business.

I do not routinely caution my patients about the use of nail hardeners containing formaldehyde. However, if I see unexplained changes in the nail bed or section of the nail from the bed, I caution them to avoid nail products containing formaldehyde.

Never apply a nail product containing formaldehyde without asking if the client has ever had an adverse reaction to a nail product. If she has, use a formaldehyde free product.

If a nail product contain formaldehyde is used just on the nail and fully dries and doesn’t touch other parts of the body,  the risk of sensitization is low.

People who are sensitive to formaldehyde have a  hard time avoiding it because it is used many products.



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