Formaldehyde is a translucent, explosive, and pungent-smelling compound in construction products and various home items. It is a cancer-causing volatile organic compound (VOC) with adverse health consequences.

Because it takes on multiple forms, it is comparatively more complex than many other simple carbon molecules. The compounds are frequently interchangeable and interconvertible.

As an integral component of their cell metabolism, formaldehyde is produced spontaneously by all living things, including microbes, vegetation, fish, mammals, and people.

Formaldehyde is often used as a basic biochemical foundation in creating thousands of products, such as vaccinations, medications, and everyday items. However, it is found in low amounts of finished goods that customers purchase.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated formaldehyde as a potential human carcinogen given elevated or chronic exposure circumstances. And premised on observational studies, it can trigger nasopharyngeal cancer in individuals.

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Exposure to Formaldehyde

smoking - formaldehyde
Dont smoke and minimize Formaldehyde exposure (source)

Inhaling formaldehyde is the most common method for humans to be subjected to the associated risks. It is also possible to receive the liquid solution of formaldehyde through the bare skin.

Additionally, humans can be introduced to minor levels of formaldehyde by consuming formaldehyde-containing meals or sipping formaldehyde-containing drinks.

The human body typically produces formaldehyde. Enzymatic reactions easily break down formaldehyde into formic acid, then break down into carbon dioxide.

Only about a third of breathed formaldehyde gets absorbed into the blood, as the cells that line the oral cavity, nostrils, esophagus, and respiratory tract break down the substance.

Formaldehyde is readily detectable across indoor and outdoor air (less than 0.03 parts per million). Formaldehyde-containing objects can discharge the compound into the environment in gas or vapor.

Vehicle emission is a significant generator of formaldehyde in the surroundings. The compound is commonly found in living spaces from pressed-timber items containing formaldehyde polymers.

One can raise internal formaldehyde concentrations by opting for unvented fuel-burning gadgets, including cooktops and kerosene radiators.

Cigarette smoke contains formaldehyde, and primary and secondary smokers are susceptible to more significant quantities of formaldehyde.

Persons who smoke tobacco have substantially larger doses of formaldehyde attached to DNA in their white blood cells than people who don’t smoke.

In cosmetology and perhaps other hygiene merchandise such as moisturizers, conditioner, shampoo, body wash, and nail polishes, formaldehyde and other compounds that generate formaldehyde are often used in minuscule quantities.

Those could temporarily lead to a buildup of formaldehyde in the atmosphere within the house. However, the proportions attained are well below those deemed dangerous.

Professionals in the formaldehyde or formaldehyde-incorporated product industries, medical technologists, pharmaceutical professionals, and funeral service personnel may be subjected to the highest quantities of formaldehyde than the wider population.

Applications of Formaldehyde

Laminated and synthetic timber items, such as cabinets, vanities, veneers, furnishings, shelves, staircase, parquet, wall sheeting, reinforcement beams, and many other household equipment and infrastructures, are made with formaldehyde-based resins.

Formaldehyde-based adhesives are excellent binding solvents, giving high-quality results while remaining cost-effective.

The application of formaldehyde in the production of vaccinations, anti-infective medications, and hard-gel pills has a longstanding safety experience.

Formaldehyde, for instance, is often used to immobilize pathogens so that they do not infect people, namely the influenza virus in the flu vaccination.

Numerous consumer goods require formaldehyde-based technology to be manufactured. These items comprise formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, which work as a conservator by killing germs and preventing germs and other diseases from growing, thereby increasing the storability of the product.

Automobiles with formaldehyde innovation are lightweight and far more fuel-efficient. Upholstery molded parts and under-the-hood equipment that must tolerate high temperatures are made with formaldehyde-based resins.

Effects of Formaldehyde in Human Health

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The irritated young man probably due to formaldehyde exposure (source)

1. Exposure at a high level

The main hazardous impacts of acute formaldehyde absorption are an aggravation of the eyes, nose, and esophagus and consequences on the nasal passages.

Chronic cough, wheezing, chest aches, and bronchitis are other adverse reactions of formaldehyde contamination in humans.

2. Exposure at a lower level

Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nostrils, esophagus, and chest at lower levels routinely seen in merchandise. Scratchy, painful, or tingling sensations are frequent descriptions of sensory inconveniences.

Formaldehyde may have minor, temporary implications on pulmonary function at doses higher than those connected with tactile discomfort.

Several persons are more vulnerable to the adverse threats of formaldehyde than others. Skin irritation and itchiness are probable in the general populace when formaldehyde-containing formulations with 1 to 2 percent quantities are applied topically.

On the other hand, Hypersensitive individuals might experience contact dermatitis after being exposed to formaldehyde quantities as minimal as 0.003%.

However, there is no indication that formaldehyde induces congenital abnormalities in newborns or that formaldehyde ingested by the female may be passed through the placenta or breast milk to the infant.

Formaldehyde is classified as a confirmed carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The compound has been linked to an increased nasopharyngeal carcinoma and leukemia incidence.

These studies were mainly conducted on formaldehyde-exposed personnel. Individuals subjected to formaldehyde at the workplace are frequently exposed to elevated amounts than those at home.

Eliminating Formaldehyde from Living Spaces

Eliminate your Formaldehyde problems. Copyright: Home Performance

Formaldehyde exposure can cause temporary and long-term health effects in individuals in constant contact with the compound.

Hence, the best way to keep oneself safe from vulnerability is to identify what products and items in our daily use contain formaldehyde and ways to replace or eliminate the effect.

  • Make your home a no-smoking zone! Smoke from cigarettes can lead to a rise in formaldehyde levels in your house, particularly if you smoke indoors.
  • Have the wood-burning furnace or fireplace well-ventilated and spotless. Inorganic substances buildups can grow and discharge into the air if you do not cleanse and ventilate properly.
  • While cooking, make sure to use an exhaust fan or a blower. Exhaust fans assist in neutralizing and diffusing the formaldehyde emitted by a cooktop.
  • Aerate the residence regularly. Enhancing the amount of fresh air flowing in the rooms is essential to reduce formaldehyde levels. Once in a while, make sure to allow a lateral breeze to flow through the residence by opening windows in various areas.
  • Adjust the humidity levels inside your living spaces. Maintaining your place at appropriate moisture levels can prevent your belongings off-gas. The proportion of formaldehyde emitted will rise when the atmosphere is warmer and more humid.
  • Each garment should be washed before wearing them. To prevent shrinking and keep textiles wrinkle-resistant, companies commonly add substances like formaldehyde. Just a single wash helps eliminate lingering contaminants from the clothes before they come in contact with your skin.
  • Give enough time for items to off-gas. Ensure you allow recently bought furnishings to remain unwrapped outdoors for a few days to dissipate any lingering pollutants before bringing them inside your apartment.
  • Look for items that include little or no formaldehyde. Prevention is the utmost level of defense. The minimal quantities of formaldehyde you expose to your household, the safer. 
  • It can be a brilliant idea to look for low-VOC goods whenever possible. At present, you can find a few things on the market that are specifically designed to be formaldehyde-free. 

Formaldehyde and Beauty

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Formaldehyde contributors (source)

The cosmetic industry is exposed to extremely high levels of formaldehyde from the application of numerous cosmetic products used in beauty spas.

A wide variety of synthetic merchandise is often used in beauty treatments for various treatments, including deep facial cleaning, body hydrotherapy and care, anti-wrinkle, discoloration, and eczema treatment, acne control, hair removal, body and face exfoliation, aromatherapy, spa treatments, and many more.

Hair straightening or texturizing treatments and faux nails are the primary beauty treatments containing significant formaldehyde levels.

Formaldehyde is permissible and lawful to incorporate in cosmetic products at minimal concentrations because it is discharged in tiny quantities overtime to help preserve products from bacterial contamination between preservation and application.

The amount of contact in the user is determined by the ingredients applied and stylistic procedures and aeration. Sometimes at low doses, people exposed to formaldehyde often encounter headaches, nausea, and slight eye and respiratory irritation.

Consumers worried about formaldehyde exposure through personal hygiene items and beauty products should stop buying them altogether.

Manufacturers use several names to avoid writing “formaldehyde” in the ingredient lists. The identities for formaldehyde that appear on product labels include:

  • Formalin
  • Formic aldehyde
  • Methanediol
  • Methanal
  • Methyl aldehyde
  • Methylene glycol
  • Methylene oxide

Chemicals that are used as preservatives but release formaldehyde are:

  • Benzylhemiformal
  • 2-bedroom-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol
  • 5-bedroom-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethyl hydantoin (or DMDM hydantoin)
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Quaternium-15

To Wrap Up

Formaldehyde might not be easy to avoid nowadays as many of our daily use products and merchandise have some amount of the compound. Consider trying natural organic beauty products on Amazon.

And although it is not an incredibly life-threatening chemical compound, it is always best to avoid it as far as possible. Or at least minimize the exposure.

A significant takeaway from this article would be to check the ingredient list of your daily use goods and make sure it does not contain any formaldehyde derivatives at all costs.

However, it is not only a formaldehyde issue. Carbon dioxide is also a significant issue of environmental damage affecting humans and animals. Find out our article on which countries are producing more CO2 HERE.

(Last Updated on November 29, 2021 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!