What is Formaldehyde Purpose health risks Signs of poisoning


Formaldehyde is a chemical substance with a strong smell that can cause allergies, irritation and intoxication when the person comes into contact with or inhales concentrations above those indicated by ANVISA.

This substance is widely used in cosmetic products, mainly in hair straightening products and nail polishes, however in 2009 ANVISA determined that formaldehyde could only be used in small concentrations in cosmetic products due to possible health risks.

This indication was due to the fact that several consequences of its use have been reported, such as hair loss, scalp burns, eye irritation and intoxication. In addition, formaldehyde and its derivatives can induce mutations in the genetic material, DNA, increasing the risk of developing tumor cells and leading to the appearance of mouth, nose and blood cancer, for example.

What is formaldehyde used for?

It is widely used in the creation of cosmetic products to straighten hair, as well as nail polish. Since 2009, ANVISA has determined a maximum concentration for this purpose.

It is also used in laboratories to preserve animal natural resources  by man. In fact, in these areas, not only species or anatomical parts, this use being authorized by ANVISA, provided that people are properly protected with the use of protective glasses, masks, gloves and gown.

health risks

The frequent use of it or the contact and inhalation of large amounts pose a risk to health because formaldehyde is capable of causing genetic alterations and, therefore, interferes with several processes of normal cell metabolism, in addition to being able to reduce the function of some organs.

The contact or inhalation of formaldehyde may be related to several health complications, especially with regard to the development of cancer. In addition, depending on how you come into contact with formaldehyde, there may be other health risks:

  • Changes in the respiratory tract, with bronchitis, pneumonia or laryngitis;
  • Changes in the skin, which may result in dermatitis, formation of ulcers and local necrosis;
  • Hair loss and scalp burning;
  • Intoxication, which can result in death if the concentration of formaldehyde with which you had contact was very high.

The risks of using are even greater in the case of children, as the genetic alterations caused by formaldehyde can happen more easily and, therefore, children are at greater risk of developing cancer.

It is important to keep in mind that formaldehyde in the concentration authorized by ANVISA does not have a smoothing function. Thus, if during the hair straightening procedure a very strong smell characteristic of it is detected, for example, it is important to notify ANVISA or the Sanitary Surveillance so that an inspection can be carried out at the establishment, since the product may be adulterated.

Does formaldehyde use cause cancer?

Prolonged and continuous use or exposure to can lead to cancer, as its effects are cumulative. This happens because formaldehyde, its derivatives or substances that can release it, such as glyoxylic acid, for example, can have a mutagenic effect, that is, they can induce mutations in DNA and lead to the production and proliferation of malignant cells, resulting in cancer. nose, mouth, larynx and blood, mainly.

Due to its carcinogenic potential, the indiscriminate use in cosmetic products was prohibited by ANVISA in 2009. Thus, ANVISA only authorizes formaldehyde to be used as a nail hardening agent in a concentration of up to 5% and as a preservative agent in a concentration of up to 0.2%, with the manipulation of formaldehyde in beauty salons and the addition of formaldehyde in products registered by ANVISA prohibited, as these already have the recommended formaldehyde concentration.

Signs of formaldehyde poisoning

Frequent exposure or high concentrations can cause irritation and lead to the appearance of signs and symptoms of intoxication, the main ones being:

  • Skin irritation, which can be perceived through redness, pain, burning and peeling;
  • Eye irritation, with excessive tearing, conjunctivitis and blurred vision;
  • Irritation of the respiratory tract, which may result in pulmonary edema, irritation of the nose;
  • Decreased respiratory rate;
  • Headache;
  • Loss of hair;
  • Sickness;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Cough;
  • Enlargement of the liver, in case of prolonged contact.

In the case of beauty salons, professionals and clients who use formaldehyde-based straightening products are often more likely to have reactions associated with exposure to the substance, in addition to greater chances of developing cancer. Therefore, it is important to avoid the use of formaldehyde and seek alternatives for these procedures. 

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