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Formaldehyde in hair straightening products: Rapid 1H NMR determination and risk assessment


Correspondence: Dirk W. Lachenmeier, Chemisches und Veterinäruntersuchungsamt (CVUA) Karlsruhe, Weissenburger Strasse 3, 76187 Karlsruhe, Germany. Current address: Ministry of Rural Affairs and Consumer Protection, Kernerplatz 10, 70182 Stuttgart, Germany. Tel.: +49-721-926-5434; fax: +49-721-5042136; e-mail:


Despite official regulations, the illegal use of formaldehyde-containing or releasing hair straightening products has become a popular practice in Europe and high contents of formaldehyde in such products have been reported.

In this study, a methodology utilizing 1H NMR spectroscopy has been developed to measure the concentration of formaldehyde in hair straightening products. For sample preparation, a dilution and alkaline hydrolysis is required. The total formaldehyde content can then be quantified by a distinct peak of the CH2 group of the methanediol molecule in the δ4.84–4.82 ppm range.

The developed methodology was applied for the analysis of 10 hair straightening products. Seven of these products contained detectable amounts of formaldehyde that were higher than the maximum allowed concentration of 0.2%. The formaldehyde content of these products was found to be in the range 0.42–5.83% with an average concentration of 1.46%. The accuracy and reliability of the NMR results were confirmed by the EU reference photometric method.

The air formaldehyde concentrations after application of hair straightening products were estimated in ranges 20–423 ppm and 1–18 ppm (for 1 and 24 m3 salon volume). A probabilistic exposure estimation using Monte Carlo simulation found the average formaldehyde concentration to be 6 ppm (standard deviation 15 ppm). All exposure scenarios considerably exceeded the safe level of 0.1 ppm. Our findings confirmed that the risk of cosmetic formulations with formaldehyde above 0.2% is not negligible, as these products may facilitate considerable exposure of formaldehyde for consumers especially for salon workers.