A controversial preservative that has formaldehyde-releasing properties. It works great against bacteria and also has mild fungicide abilities.
Cosmetic chemist, Colin wrote a great article about formaldehyde and DMDM Hydantoin. He writes that formaldehyde is the perfect example of "the dose makes the poison" principle. It's a natural stuff that can also be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating it in tiny amounts is totally ok. However, in larger amounts (according to Wikipedia 30 mL of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde) it's deadly.
The amount of formaldehyde used in cosmetics either neat or through formaldehyde-releasing preservatives is tiny. Probably that is why the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Broad concluded both in 1988 and in 2008 that DMDM Hydantoin is "safe as used in cosmetics".
However, Colins argues that in the case of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, formaldehyde is released slowly and the skin has probably not evolved to deal with that. The lingering formaldehyde might be toxic to the Langerhans Cells that are important for the skin's defense system. Another potential issue is that formaldehyde-releasers might also release other things while reacting with amino acids in the skin that is probably the explanation why some people are not allergic to formaldehyde but are allergic to formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. These are all theories, far from proven facts, but we feel that there are some justified reasons why formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and Dmdm Hydantoin count as controversial.
All in all, it's up to you to decide if you wanna avoid this preservative group or not. If so, there are other, less risky and more skin-friendly options out there.
Show me some proof
- Kireche, Mustapha, Elena Gimenez‐Arnau, and Jean‐Pierre Lepoittevin. "Preservatives in cosmetics: reactivity of allergenic formaldehyde‐releasers towards amino acids through breakdown products other than formaldehyde." Contact Dermatitis 63.4 (2010): 192-202.