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The Truth About Formaldehyde

Updated: Apr 1

There are two types of formaldehyde – naturally occurring and synthetically made. Naturally occurring formaldehyde is harmless and found in every single living organism, while synthetic formaldehyde is derived from compounds detrimental to human health.

bottle/vile of formaldehyde with scull and bones signifying danger

As someone with a documented formaldehyde allergy, I've quickly learned that many people do not understand formaldehyde basics. When I discussed formaldehyde being a vaccine ingredient on TikTok, many people were unaware that there is a difference between naturally occurring and synthetically made formaldehyde. Many also didn't understand the difference between ingestion and injection. With that said, I saw a void and decided to write this blog to educate on a topic I'm very familiar with.

Firstly, according to the American Cancer Society,

“Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling, colorless gas used in making building materials and many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. It is also used to make other chemicals (1).”

Natural Vs. Synthetic Formaldehyde

As I said, there are two types of formaldehyde – naturally occurring and synthetically made, and the two couldn't be more different.

Naturally occurring formaldehyde is a carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen substance. Naturally occurring formaldehyde is found in every living organism, from humans to animals and plants, as a part of the metabolic process (2).

Contrarily, synthetically made formaldehyde is a combination of methyl alcohol vapors, and the air is passed over a platinized asbestos, copper, or silver catalyst (3). Let's look at the dangers of asbestos, copper, and silver.

First up, we have asbestos. We’ve all seen the compensation commercials for Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder. Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, pleural thickening, asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer (4). Approximately 90,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases globally each year, with an estimated 125 million people worldwide remaining at risk of occupational exposure to asbestos (5)!

Next up, we have copper and silver. When we think about heavy metals, we typically think of the top five that rank highest in toxicity – arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury (6). If you read my blog, The Truth About Heavy Metals, you know there are thirty other metals of toxicity concern (19 are heavy metals), and both copper and silver are on that list (7). Ironically, I am allergic to silver (amongst many other metal alloys), which is likely why I am allergic to synthetically derived formaldehyde.

Dangers of Synthetic Formaldehyde

Now that we know the difference between natural and synthetic formaldehyde and other names for formaldehyde let's discuss the dangers of synthetically derived formaldehyde. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause coughing, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation (8), but that's just the start.

Based on toxicological data and epidemiological evidence obtained in workplaces, formaldehyde has been a categorized group 1 carcinogen for humans since 2004 (9). A categorized group 1 carcinogen is implemented when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans (10).

Additionally, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recognizes the risks of formaldehyde, stating:

“Exposure to formaldehyde can irritate the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can possibly lead to cancer (11).”

So how is formaldehyde allowed in our food supply, vaccines, and almost every household and cosmetic product? Other health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure include:

5 risks of formaldehyde (allergies, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, cancer)


Some people are naturally allergic to airborne formaldehyde. Even studies acknowledge that formaldehyde is a common trigger for allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) (12). Allergic reactions aside, some people may develop a formaldehyde allergy due to skin contact with liquid formaldehyde (13). With that said, in Europe, where there are stricter guidelines on formaldehyde use, only about 1.5% to 2.5% of adults have an allergy. Contrarily, in the United States, where formaldehyde is in many of our household and cosmetic products, we have an 8% allergy rate (14).


Several studies have linked formaldehyde exposure to the risk of developing asthma. A 2002 study found domestic exposure to formaldehyde significantly increased the risk of childhood asthma (15). A systematic review had similar findings, concluding:

“Results indicate a significant positive association between formaldehyde exposure and childhood asthma (16).”

A more recent study demonstrated formaldehyde exposure in inner-city school classrooms was associated with rhinitis, peripheral olfactory dysfunction, increased pharmacologically reversible nasal obstruction, small airway impairment, and asthma (17). Additionally, a 2021 systematic review, meta-analysis, and economic assessment had similar findings of 90 studies reviewed, confirming formaldehyde exposure was associated with increased childhood asthma diagnosis. They also noted exacerbating asthma symptoms in children and adults (18).

Bronchitis & Pnemonia

Aside from causing respiratory diseases like asthma, formaldehyde can also cause respiratory illnesses. A 1905 study reported formaldehyde’s toxic effects, stating that even in small quantities, formaldehyde exposure can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia (19). Even mainstream sources acknowledge that repeated formaldehyde exposure can cause bronchitis (20). Additionally, a systematic review with meta-analysis confirmed formaldehyde exposure was associated with increased complaints of cough, phlegm production, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and colds (21).


Earlier, we briefly discussed formaldehyde being a class 1 carcinogen. Even mainstream sources like The National Cancer Institute acknowledge that high levels of formaldehyde exposure cause myeloid leukemia and other rare cancers, like cancers of the paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, and nasopharynx (22).

One study found formaldehyde has a leukemia-inducing mechanism via oxidative stress (23). Another study found exposure to formaldehyde and wood dust increased the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer (24). It’s important to note that this study does not mention if the wood was formaldehyde treated, but chances are, like most wood composites, it was (25).

It’s important to note that some people, like myself, are very sensitive to formaldehyde. A sensitive individual may have negative effects at lower levels than expected, whereas others may not react when exposed to the same levels of formaldehyde (26).

Alternative Names for Formaldehyde

Now that you know the difference between naturally occurring and synthetically derived formaldehyde, let’s learn how to avoid it by knowing all its hidden names like (27):

  • Formalin

  • Formic aldehyde

  • Methaldehyde

  • Methyl aldehyde

  • Methylene oxide

  • Methanal

  • Oxymethylene

If you’re like me and allergic to formaldehyde or just wish to lower your formaldehyde exposure, I'd recommend avoiding the following chemicals as they’re formaldehyde releasers (27):

  • Quaternium-15

  • Diazolidinyl urea (Germall® II)

  • DMDM hydantoin (Glydant)

  • Imidazolidinyl urea (Germall®)

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol

Alternative Names For Formaldehyde (Formalin, Formic aldehyde, Methaldehyde, Methanal, Methyl aldehyde, Methylene oxide, Oxymethylene)

And finally, let's discuss where synthetically derived formaldehyde is added, like:

Formaldehyde is even added as a preservative in food, similar to how it preserves dead bodies when used in embalming. Formaldehyde can also be produced from cooking and smoking (1).

Formaldehyde-Free Recommendations

As someone with a formaldehyde allergy, limiting my exposure is important. It's hard to completely eliminate formaldehyde, considering it's in everything, and formaldehyde-free alternatives can be expensive, but here are some of my all-natural, formaldehyde-free recommendations:

What do you do to limit your exposure to formaldehyde?

Sarena-Rae Santos



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