This is one of series of review articles on formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasers (others: formaldehyde in cosmetics, in clothes and in metalworking fluids and miscellaneous). Thirty-five chemicals were identified as being formaldehyde-releasers. Although a further seven are listed in the literature as formaldehyde-releasers, data are inadequate to consider them as such beyond doubt. Several (nomenclature) mistakes and outdated information are discussed. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde allergy are reviewed: applications, exposure scenarios, legislation, patch testing problems, frequency of sensitization, relevance of positive patch test reactions, clinical pattern of allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde, prognosis, threshold for elicitation of allergic contact dermatitis, analytical tests to determine formaldehyde in products and frequency of exposure to formaldehyde and releasers. The frequency of contact allergy to formaldehyde is consistently higher in the USA (8–9%) than in Europe (2–3%). Patch testing with formaldehyde is problematic; the currently used 1% solution may result in both false-positive and false-negative (up to 40%) reactions. Determining the relevance of patch test reactions is often challenging. What concentration of formaldehyde is safe for sensitive patients remains unknown. Levels of 200–300 p.p.m. free formaldehyde in cosmetic products have been shown to induce dermatitis from short-term use on normal skin.