Do Parabens Release Formaldehyde? – Beautiful With Brains


Do parabens release formaldehyde? I get this question a lot and here’s why:

You know the whole “parabens are the devil” thing?

It’s total nonsense. I’ve debunked it all here.

But, there’s one thing I’ve forgotten to touch on. Formaldehyde.

Parabens, those little preservatives that keep your cosmetics safe from germs and bacteria, are often accused of releasing this nasty stuff.

Is that true or is it just another thing parabens wrongly take the blame for? Here’s what science says about whether parabens release formaldehyde:

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are a family of preservatives that’s been widely used in skincare, haircare, and makeup products from the 1950s for two reasons. First off, they’re cheap. Most importantly, they’re highly effective. They kill a wide range of bacteria and fungi, helping your lotions and potions last longer.

The most common types of parabens used in skincare products are Butylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben. If it ends in “paraben,” it’s a paraben. Dah! So, do these parabens release formaldehyde?

Do Parabens Release Formaldehyde?

First things first: what the heck is formaldehyde?

The stuff used to embalm dead bodies and preserve dead things. Yes, it’s gross. Toxic. Carcinogenic, even.

FYI, your body’s making it, too.

I’m not kidding. Your body does produce a tiny amount of formaldehyde during essential metabolic processes. Like, when it makes certain amino acids.

You honestly couldn’t live if your body didn’t do that. But that doesn’t mean formaldehyde is good. You may need the tiniest amount to survive but you don’t want to come into contact with more formaldehyde than you need to.

The good news? Parabens do NOT release formaldehyde. I’ve scoured the scientific literature and talked to doctors and dermatologists and everyone agrees: there’s no shed of proof parabens release formaldehyde. You can use them safely.

Related: Why Science Says Parabens Are Safe To Use


Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:


What Preservatives Do Release Formaldehyde?

So, why do people think that parabens release formaldehyde?

Probably cos of their bad rep, they must have been added by mistake in the list of preservatives that DO release formaldehyde.

Yep, parabens may be innocent here, but some preservatives do release formaldehyde.

Before you start to panic, these preservatives release only the tiniest amount. That’s more than enough to kill the germs and bacteria that, somehow, find their way into your lotions and potions. But, that’s not enough to kill YOU.

So, I guess we could say they’re safe.

Kind of. They won’t give you cancer, but they may irritate your skin. Especially if it’s sensitive.

So, what preservatives do release formaldehyde?

  • 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea
  • Quarternium-15
  • Trishydroxymethylnitromethane

Related: Parabens Alternatives: Which Ones Are Safe And Effective?

Should You Avoid Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives?

As I said, they won’t kill you. But, they may irritate your skin. I personally try to avoid them whenever possible because I think there are gentler alternatives around. And, if those exist, why not use them?

Related: Alternatives To Parabens: Which Are Both Safe And Effective?

The Bottom Line

Parabens don’t release formaldehyde. But, other preservatives do. If you have sensitive skin that reacts badly to anything, avoid them.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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