Ok the title is a bit tongue in cheek. But April is National Brussel Sprouts and Cabbage Month and they both release formaldehyde in cooking. I liked National Formaldehyde Month because the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has used formaldehdye for shock value — so I borrowed a bit of their thunder for this title.
Because I don’t want anyone to quit eating Brussel Sprouts and Cabbage I will take this opportunity to share the real safety information on formaldehyde.
There are several formaldehyde releasing preservatives including: Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hyrdoxymethylglycinate. These can all be found sold in preservative bundles under these trade names: Germaben II, Germaben II-E, Germall 115, Germall II, Germall Plus, Glydant Plus, Glydant Plus Liquid, Liquid Germall Plus, Elestab 305, Euxyl K 500, Maguard H55, Microcare DMP, Microcare IMP, Neo-Dragocide, Liquid, Nipaguard PDU, Paragon, Paragon G2, Paragon IB-PG, Paragon II, Paragon III and Phenagon PDI, Sutticide A.
These preservatives release formaldehyde in very small amounts over time. Since it has such a short half life it does not build up over time which is what makes these preservatives so appealing to formulators. The slow release of formaldehyde allows for a constant low level of formaldehyde at all times just high enough to ensure sufficient levels to inhibit microbial growth. The use of formaldehyde releasing preservatives instead of straight formaldehyde is preferred because the straight formaldehyde would be used up too quickly and released from the product leaving it unstable.
Formaldehyde is a chemical compound belonging to the organic functional group known as aldehydes. Composed of only one carbon atom, one oxygen atom, and two hydrogen atoms, formaldehyde is the simplest of all aldehydes. Being that formaldehyde has such a simple structure it is a common building block in the synthesis of more complex compounds and materials in industrial settings and in our body’s biochemistry.
Formaldehyde is naturally produced in very small amounts in our bodies as a part of our everyday metabolism and causes us no harm in small quantities. The normal blood level of formaldehyde found in humans is 2.5 ppm (parts per million). It can also be found in the air that we breathe at home and at work, in the food we eat, and in some products that we put on our skin. Formaldehyde is a gas with a pungent smell and a natural part of the world around us. Plants and animals produce formaldehyde as part of normal metabolism. It is emitted as a natural by-product in the cooking of certain vegetables. Perfect examples vegetables with formaldehyde as by-products in cooking are Brussel sprouts and cabbage, which explains a lot about the odor they emit during the cooking process.
Very small amounts of formaldehyde are absorbed if the chemical comes in contact with your skin. And once absorbed, formaldehyde is very quickly broken down by our metabolism. Many tissues in the body have the ability to break down formaldehyde. Generally, it is converted to a non-toxic chemical called formate, which is filtered out by the kidneys and passed in the urine. Formaldehyde can also be converted to carbon dioxide and exhaled out of the body through the lungs. As mentioned earlier it may also be used as a building block to make larger molecules needed in your tissues. Formaldehyde is water soluble and is not stored in fat so it can be metabolized very quickly with a half life in the human body of about 1.5 minutes.
Concerns are rising within the cosmetic industry and with consumers regarding formaldehyde content in some products. Formaldehyde in cosmetics may cause allergic reactions and rashes in a small percentage of people. Although the formaldehyde concentrations may be as low as a few ppm (parts per million), children, or an adult who is very sensitive may undergo such a reaction. The most common symptoms of formaldehyde exposure include irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel assessed the safety of Formaldehyde and concluded that “when it makes up less than .2% of a cosmetic product applied to the skin, it is safe to the great majority of the consumers.” When the result of studies show that the level of formaldehyde in all cosmetics are measured in ppm (parts per million) it is easy to conclude that all cosmetics fall below the .2% level of formaldehyde in their formulations.
Studies with laboratory rats exposed for life to high amounts of formaldehyde 800 ppm (parts per million) in their drinking water resulted in cancer and/or death of the subject. Based on studies like this, The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen based on limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in laboratory rats. It is worth noting that the results are based on extremely high and prolonged periods of exposure.
There are no current restrictions on the levels of formaldehyde allowed in cosmetic products, nor do companies need to disclose this information because it is a by-product and not an added ingredient. A safe and ethical approach to business allows for a safe experience and future for our customers.
Celebrate National (Formaldehyde) Brussel Sprouts and Cabbage Month by eating a healthy serving of both.