Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics in the USA and in Europe

Contact Dermatitis. 2010 Apr;62(4):221-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2009.01623.x. Epub 2010 Mar 3.


Background: Frequencies of sensitization to formaldehyde among US patients patch tested for suspected contact dermatitis are higher than in Europe. Cosmetics are an important source of contact with formaldehyde.

Objectives: To acquire data on the frequency of use of formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics sold in the USA and Europe and their use concentrations. To assess whether any observed differences may contribute to the discrepancies in sensitization rates.

Methods: Enquiries with Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Cosmetics Association, and the Dutch Cosmetics Association. Reading the labels of skin care cosmetics in a local drugstore.

Results: The FDA provided data on the presence of formaldehyde and releasers. Nearly one fifth of all cosmetics contain a releaser. In 25% of 496 examined skin care products, releasers were present. In comparable FDA data categories, the percentage was 24. No data were found on use concentrations of the releasers in cosmetics in either the USA or Europe.

Conclusions: The percentages of stay-on skin care products containing a formaldehyde-releaser are virtually identical in the USA (FDA data) and our local drugstore sample. However, this does not necessarily imply that cosmetics play no part in the differences in formaldehyde sensitization rates.

MeSH terms

  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / epidemiology*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology*
  • Dioxanes / adverse effects
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hydantoins / adverse effects
  • Methanol / adverse effects
  • Methanol / analogs & derivatives
  • Methenamine / adverse effects
  • Methenamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Methyl Ethers / adverse effects
  • Prevalence
  • Propylene Glycols / adverse effects
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urea / adverse effects
  • Urea / analogs & derivatives


  • Cosmetics
  • Dioxanes
  • Hydantoins
  • Methyl Ethers
  • Propylene Glycols
  • Formaldehyde
  • bronopol
  • Urea
  • quaternium-15
  • diazolidinylurea
  • Methenamine
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
  • benzylhemiformal
  • Methanol