The Truth About Preservatives By Dr. Lingam, Co-Founder of Hylunia, Research Scientist

Just because a product is paraben-free doesn’t mean it’s safe to use.

There are other preservatives like formaldehyde and derivatives like imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (release formaldehyde), DMDM hydantoin , salicylic acid, grape fruit seed extract to name a few. Paraben free claim that the preservative Sodium Hydroxymethyglycinate used products is not formaldehyde or grape fruit seed extract is natural preservative ( chemically similar to paraben). This is not true. Others use salicylic acid, but it’s not an effective preservative by itself.

Why preservatives are necessary

A good example is ketchup, which can have Sodium Benzoate as a preservative. Therefore, whenever there is a water extract, like tomato extract, they have to add a preservative to give shelf life before it goes to manufacturing which may take days and weeks.

Any time a product has water in it, it needs a preservative to remain safe to use. There is no way around this. Bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms are pathogens that can cause illness or disease live in water.

You need a preservative to kill pathogens. Bacteria will not grow on oil, alcohols, or acidic concentrates. If there is water or extracts in formulations, it needs something to fight against the microbes. If products do not have a preservative, you need to keep them in the refrigerator.

Sodium Hydroxymethyglycinate releases formaldehyde

Sodium Hydroxymethyglycinate is an allergen, causes contact dermatitis and creates inflammation of the skin1. Inflammation can eventually alter DNA. It’s a known contributor to skin aging. It’s also linked to cancer.

Formaldehyde-releasing derivatives such as Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate release formaldehyde in skin care products and it is called formaldehyde donor. Formaldehyde, which is used as an embalming liquid and as a preservative. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it a carcinogen2 (cancer causing). World-renowned expert Professor Samuel Epstein calls them “hidden” carcinogens3.

Other toxic chemicals that release formaldehyde are:

  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Quaternium-15
  • Bronopol.

Some companies claim that Sodium Hydroxymethyglycinate comes from glycerin and that it is safe. This is not true either.

Your rights as a consumer

If you don’t know how a product is preserved, the truth can hurt you.

Demand to know what’s in the products you use on your hair, skin and nails.

Don’t assume that because a product is paraben-free that it’s safe.

Pay attention to shelf life and expiration dates. The PAO symbol tells you how long a product is safe to use after it’s been opened.

Read ingredient labels and look for active ingredients.


De Groot, A et. “ Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics; Relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy” Contact Dermatitis 62, no 1 – January 2010;2-17

Monographs, Vol. 88-2006

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