What is Formaldehyde and Is it Safe for Babies?

Formaldehyde is one of those nasty-sounding chemicals that most people recognize and know that they probably shouldn’t be exposed to it but they aren’t sure why. As a parent, you need to know that it is present in many common items around the house as well as lots of baby products to boot. Even if it’s not listed directly on the label, there could be chemicals in products you buy that release formaldehyde over time.

Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly added to products to prevent the growth of bacteria. Unfortunately, it has been linked to myeloid leukemia and it could be found as an ingredient in many baby products such as soaps, shampoos, and lotions.

We personally try to avoid this chemical as much as possible to avoid the potential health risks for ourselves and our little one! Let’s take a look at just how toxic this chemical is and what formaldehyde does to the body.

What is formaldehyde?

According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde is a strong-smelling, flammable, colorless chemical that is found inside many household items and home building materials. Typically, it is added to these products as a fungicide, germicide, or disinfectant. for this reason, it is also commonly used in mortuaries and medical facilities in order to preserve organic tissue from bacteria. In personal care items, it is used to lengthen the shelf life of the products by preventing spoilage from unwanted bacterial growth.

While most formaldehyde is produced at the industrial level, it also occurs naturally in the environment in trace amounts during normal metabolic processes in living organisms.

What Formaldehyde does to the body

It is no secret that formaldehyde exposure is not good for people. When looking at what formaldehyde does to the body we have to consider the fact there can be different effects depending on the type of exposure.

Most studies on the dangers of formaldehyde focus on occupational hazards associated with people that handle the chemical on a day-to-day basis and the most common problems stem from inhaling it on the job. Here are the effects from:

  • Inhaling – When formaldehyde is inhaled it causes irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat and has caused cases of asthma in some workers examined.
  • Ingesting – This hasn’t been studied in humans, but rat studies have shown stomach damage when exposed to higher doses.
  • Absorbing – Some clothing has formaldehyde added during the manufacturing process and can be transmitted through the skin. It can also be absorbed through lotions or other cosmetic-type products that you might put on your skin.

Can formaldehyde cause cancer?

Studies on the chemical have been going on since the 1980s and researchers from the National Toxicology Program, International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Cancer Institute have concluded that it is a probable carcinogen. It has been associated with many different kinds of cancer and long-term exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to myeloid leukemia, especially.

How to become exposed to formaldehyde

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, formaldehyde is usually either released into the air or stored inside a product in a liquid solution, called formalin.

Outside, you’ll find it from:

  • Power plant emissions
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Car exhaust

Indoors, you’ll find it from:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Home building materials such as particle-board, plywood, paints, electrical insulation, and furniture
  • Consumer products like cosmetics, preserved foods, and cleaning agents

Formaldehyde will get into your system by:

  • Inhaling it when it is off-gassed by materials or products
  • Ingesting it by placing the materials in your mouth (BABY ALERT!)
  • Absorbing through the skin through cosmetic products like lotions or some industrial cleaners

All of these possibilities mean that you need to be on the lookout for ways to avoid formaldehyde on a daily basis:

  • If there are any smokers in the house – get them out!
  • Don’t let your baby chew on furniture or any other wooden materials in the house! (Side note: also splinters!)

Formaldehyde in baby products

As recently as 2009, Consumerist magazine tested a whole bunch of products aimed at babies and children to see which ones contained formaldehyde and a potent formaldehyde releaser, 1,4-Dioxane. I’m not going to list every item, and I’m sure some of these have since removed them from their ingredients, but here are the groups they found chemicals inside along with a few examples just so you can see how common it was:

  • Lotions – Bath and Body Works and Johnson & Johnson
  • Shampoos – House brands from CVS, Unilever, and L’Oreal USA
  • Liquid shower soaps – Bath and Body Works
  • Bath Washes – Johnson & Johnson, CVS, Walmart’s Equate brand, Gerber, Kimberly-Clark, Target
  • Bubble Bath – Lots of these were character-themed such as Dora, Sesame Street, Tinker Bell, etc. but made by different companies
  • Baby Wipes – Huggies
  • Hand Soaps – Pampers

How to find products that avoid formaldehyde

Doing your label research is crucial to finding products that avoid using formaldehyde or known formaldehyde releasers. Knowing what formaldehyde does to the body means that we owe it to our babies to put the work for their health!

Fortunately, there are many great companies that have products on the market today that are completely rid of formaldehyde. It is their mission to ensure that there are no harmful chemicals added to their baby products that could cause long term health issues, irritation, or allergic reactions.

If you are looking for baby wipes, specifically, then please check out my resource on the best biodegradable baby wipes available today. Each of these options will be safe and effective for your little one during each and every diaper change or messy eating wipe down!

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