When you wash your hair or brush your teeth, you’re using toiletries that are made safer because of the minute amounts of formaldehyde used to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Formaldehyde has been used routinely for decades in hundreds of products. Many different resins are created from formaldehyde. These resins, in turn, are used to create other compounds having different properties. These compounds can be used as preservatives in personal hygiene products because they kill bacteria or to make other products more effective, such as the foaming action in soaps and detergents. These products improve hygiene and, subsequently, your health.
The science behind the use of this simple molecule is extensive. Chemistry has allowed the responsible use of formaldehyde in all kinds of everyday products such as plastics, carpeting, clothing, resins, glues, medicines, vaccines and the film used in x-rays.
You are probably familiar with formaldehyde from your first dissection in biology class, where the animals were preserved with formaldehyde to ensure the organ systems remained intact for anatomical investigation. Formaldehyde is also used to preserve cadavers for medical schools’ human anatomy classes.
Formaldehyde is a critical ingredient in the production of hundreds of items that improve everyday life. While little or no formaldehyde is present in the final product, the chemical is an essential building block in the production of some of the most common consumer items, including paper towels, photographic film, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, lipstick and nail polish, and acts as an anti-bacterial agent in such consumer products as mascara.
In many instances, because of formaldehyde’s unique physical and chemical properties, few compounds can replace it as a raw material without reducing performance and making the final products more expensive. Whether it’s used in plywood for home construction, fuel system components for automobiles or door and window insulation for modern airliners, formaldehyde provides greater utility for consumers in the form of extended use, consistent quality and improved performance and safety.