Last Updated on April 15, 2023 by The Filtery
We recently wrote about sulfates in hair and personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Sulfates are a common group of ingredients that have gained quite a bit of notoriety in the past decade… but there is another ingredient that’s actually much less well-known, and possibly worse: DMDM hydantoin.
In this article, we’re going to talk about why DMDM hydantoin in hair products is bad news and what’s the deal with that TRÉSemme class action lawsuit you may have seen all over social media. Then we’ll list the best shampoo and conditioner brands without DMDM hydantoin.
Let’s dive in.
What’s the Deal with DMDM Hydantoin?
DMDM hydantoin is a preservative, which means it keeps shampoo from growing mold and mildew, and prevents the ingredients from going bad. That sounds like a good thing, right?
The problem with DMDM hydantoin is that it slowly releases formaldehyde over time. It’s what called a formaldehyde-releasing preservative, or FRP.
There are much safer, more natural preservatives available, which means we don’t really need DMDM hydantoin in our shampoo and other hair products.
Are Formaldehyde Releasers Toxic?
Formaldehyde is linked to various negative health effects, from skin irritation to cancer. More research is still needed on the cancer front, but the fact that it is an irritant is well established.
When it comes to the short-term effects of formaldehyde, the National Cancer Institute states:
“When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure.”
When it comes to more chronic effects, the F.D.A. states, “Chronic effects associated with formaldehyde can include an increased prevalence of headaches, asthma, contact dermatitis (a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it as a result of sensitization) and possibly cancer.”
People With Highest Risk for FRP Side Effects
Sensitive populations like infants and children, the elderly, and chronically ill individuals should be extra careful when it comes to formaldehyde exposure. Hair and nail salon workers should also consider taking precautions because they’re exposed to so many more of these products at high levels on a daily basis.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.
Is There Formaldehyde in Shampoo?
Since DMDM hydantoin is an FRP, that means that if there is DMDM hydantoin in shampoo, there is formaldehyde in it too.
Not only that, but one 2015 study found that even MORE formaldehyde can be released when cosmetics and personal care products containing FRPs are stored for longer periods of time. That means your potential exposure to these chemicals increases if you buy in bulk or from discount stores where products have spent a long time on shelves.
Formaldehyde is a common chemical that’s all around us: it’s used in building materials, wrinkle-free fabrics, adhesives, skincare products, and more. Small amounts of it are present in most of the air we breathe. In fact, it is actually a naturally occurring element, and humans make a very small amount of it as a result of the normal metabolic process!
The problems with formaldehyde come into play when they reach higher levels. The naturally occurring levels are usually less than 0.03 parts per million (ppm). (Compare that to the 0.1 ppm levels indicated by the National Cancer Institute above.)
So while it’s not necessary to get rid of all the formaldehyde in our environment, we would do well to decrease the amount we’re exposed to. We can make a conscious effort to remove it from our hair care and beauty products in an effort to keep it at a safer level. This is why many people are switching to shampoos without DMDM hydantoin.
Is DMDM Hydantoin Bad for Hair?
The issue with DMDM hydantoin isn’t necessarily that it’s bad for the hair itself, but that it’s bad for your eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Because formaldehyde can cause scalp irritation, it can lead to hair thinning and reduced hair growth as these ingredients irritate the hair follicles.
Class Action Lawsuit & DMDM Hydantoin Hair Care Products
In recent years, there have been a string of class action lawsuits against several companies because of DMDM hydantoin.
In Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Canada, Unilever has been sued after many consumers claimed that its TRESemmé keratin smooth color shampoo and conditioner cause scalp irritation and hair loss.
Other products that are being investigated because of these same issues include:
- OGX Ever Straightening Plus Brazilian Keratin Therapy Shampoo
- Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy Keratin Color Care Shampoo
- It’s A 10 Miracle Shampoo Plus Keratin
- Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree Hair and Body Moisturizer
- TIGI Bed Head Dumb Blonde Shampoo
- Finesse 2-in-1 Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner
- Got2b Phenomenal 2-in-1 Thickening Shampoo
- Maui Moisture Color Protection + Sea Minerals Conditioner
- Several Nexxus hair care products
- Several Aussie hair care products
- Several Dove products
Because of this lawsuit, the F.D.A. updated its consumer warning about formaldehyde in hair smoothing products in March 2021.
[ RELATED: What Is Sodium Laureth Sulfate In Shampoo? Is It Bad for Hair? ]
Other FRPs to Look For on Ingredient Lists
Not all preservatives are bad. (After all, we do want to prevent our hair and skin care product from developing mold!)
In fact, there are even worse ones than DMDM hydantoin. One study compared eight different FRPs to find out which ones released the most formaldehyde. Here are the ones they studied, in order from worst (most amount released) to best (least amount released). These are all ingredients you may want to look out for on your shampoo bottles.
- paraformaldehyde – PF
- diazolidinyl urea – DU
- dimethyloldimethyl hydantoin – DMDM*
- quaternium-15 – QU*
- imidazolidinyl urea – IU*
- methenamine – MA
- bronopol – BP
- poly(p-toluenesulfonamide-co-formaldehyde) -PTSAF
*The three chemicals with the asterisk are all tied.
As you can see, DMDM sits in the middle—it’s not the worst and it’s not the best.
In addition to the above, other names to look for on your ingredient list include:
- polyoxymethylene urea
- sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
- 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)
Are There Regulations on DMDM Hydantoin?
Currently, FRPs are banned from use in cosmetics and personal care products in Japan and Sweden. The E.U. allows a certain amount of these chemicals, while also requiring proper labeling on products that do use them. Canada also has concentration restrictions on FRPs. There currently are not any regulations in the U.S.
Other Products That Commonly Contain Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives (FRPs)
Here are some other common product categories that often contain FRPs:
- nail polish
- nail glue
- eyelash glue
- hair gel
- hair-smoothing products (see above)
- baby shampoo (!!)
- body wash
- color cosmetics
- moisturizers and lotions
- hand soap
- and more
The Best Shampoo Without DMDM Hydantoin (& Conditioners Too!)
If you’re looking for non-toxic shampoo brands, there are a few other ingredients you have to look out for in addition to DMDM hydantoin. These include:
- and more
The shampoo brands recommended below are all free from these toxins, so you can feel confident introducing any of them into your shower routine! (P.S. They’re also all vegan and cruelty-free.)
When looking for shampoo without DMDM, True Botanicals is the real deal. Their shampoo and conditioner are MADE SAFE certified, which is the strictest third-party certification for non-toxic products in the U.S. These toxin-free shampoos are packed with antioxidants and botanicals that thoroughly clean without stripping your hair of its color and natural oils.
This is one of the best shampoo brands without DMDM hydantoin. It’s MADE SAFE certified, made in the U.S.A., and is focused on using high-quality and consciously sourced botanicals. It even comes with a 30-day money back guarantee—that’s how confident they are in their product!
If you have color-treated or damaged hair, try Juice Organics. They have Color Protect, Volumizing, and Repairing Hair Conditioner. These formulations contain rich antioxidants combined with nourishing ingredients like jojoba and coconut oil to protect and repair your hair.
Acure also has shampoo and conditioner based on what you need for your hair type: Clarifying (for all hair types), Hydrating (for dry, damaged, and curly hair), and Color-Treated.
100% Pure also carries a variety of DMDM- and toxin-free shampoo based on your hair type: Restorative, Grow More (to encourage hair growth), Moisture Drench (for deep hydration), Glossing (to smooth frizz), Repair (for damaged hair), Volumizing, and Healthy Scalp (for dandruff, itching, and clogged pores).
They also carry a Pro-Vitamin B5 Smoothing Hair Serum, which is a great hair treatment replacement for the toxic smoothing shampoo brands involved in those lawsuits!
If shampoo bars are more of your thing, check out Chagrin Valley. They have several different kinds of shampoo for all hair types, from Chamomile and Citrus to Coconut Milk to Neem & Tea Tree shampoo.
They also have several Conditioning Vinegar Rinses, which help to remove buildup from chemical shampoos, dry shampoo buildup, or other impurities.
Chagrin Valley’s products are almost entirely plastic-free and everything is made with 100% organic, non-GMO, locally sourced, and minimally processed ingredients. The brand is also a member of 1% for the Planet.
Beautycounter’s Daily Shampoo and Conditioner is a popular pick from a trustworthy brand. We love the energizing citrus mimosa scent! This one is great for all hair types as well.
Public Goods’ DMDM-free Shampoo and Conditioner is one of the most affordable options on this list. In addition to being non-toxic, their hair products are made in the USA in bottles that are made out of sugar cane. You can also buy refill packs to help reduce waste!
If you’re looking for a smoothing shampoo to replace your TRÉSemme, check out Wellnesse. They have a Smoothing Shampoo and Enriching Conditioner which are great for frizzy hair. Or try their Cleansing Shampoo and Nourishing Conditioner, which are great for all hair types.
Handcrafted with care in Nashville, Tennessee, Foxie’s shampoo comes in a variety of formulations for different hair types: Growth + Repair, Milk It (for curly hair), Fresh Squeezed (for damaged or frizzy hair), Hotsy Totsy (for blonde, grey, and white hair), and Vitameatavegamin Pineapple.
Baby Shampoos Without DMDM Hydantoin
Honest’s non-toxic baby shampoo comes in a variety of scents like Sweet Almond, Sweet Orange Vanilla, Lavender, and Fragrance-Free. It’s tear-free, made in the USA, and also doubles as a body wash.
Honest is also available at many big box and drug stores like Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, etc.
And if you want to take a deeper dive into the Honest brand, you can check out this article.
Pipette’s Shampoo + Body Wash combo comes in Fragrance-free, Rose + Geranium, and Vanilla + Ylang Ylang. It’s dermatologist tested, pediatrician approved, and clinically-shown to improve skin hydration.
Hello Bello also has a 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash for babies and kids. It’s dermatologist and pediatrician tested, and pH-balanced. It contains healthy ingredients like aloe vera, calendula, avocado, cucumber, and jojoba.
This is another one that can commonly be found at drugstores, Walmart, and Target! It comes in a variety of fun and calming scents. (We love the Birthday Cake one!)
This baby shampoo contains soothing organic lavender and chamomile and (of course) is completely free from all potential toxins.
Erbaviva is also a B Corp brand that gives back to the BlinkNow Foundation to empower at-risk women and children in Nepal.
Lastly, let’s look at some commonly asked about shampoo brands…
Does Raw Sugar Shampoo Have DMDM Hydantoin?
No, DMDM hydantoin is not listed on the ingredient lists on Raw Sugar’s shampoos.
Does Aveeno Shampoo Have DMDM Hydantoin?
No, Aveeno does not list DMDM hydantoin as an ingredient on their shampoo labels.
Does Pantene Shampoo Have DMDM Hydantoin?
Pantene does not list DMDM hydantoin as an ingredient on their shampoo labels.
Does Garnier Shampoo Have DMDM Hydantoin?
No, Garnier does not list DMDM hydantoin as an ingredient on their shampoo labels.
When cleaning up your hair and skincare routine, switching to shampoo without DMDM hydantoin and other FRPs is a great step. Using non-toxic, FRP-free shampoo can help you prevent mild to severe hair loss and skin irritation in the short and long term!
Image Credits: Cup of Couple, Sora Shimazaki, Liubov Ilchuk, product photos belong to respective brands
I am 76 years old and I am looking for a safe shampoo and conditioner for grey hair. Can you please advise?
If you want to use a purple shampoo, here are a few brands you may want to check out:
These products aren’t *perfect* in terms of ingredients, but they are the best brands I’ve been able to find so far for purple shampoo for gray hair.
What about Morroccan Oil shampoo and conditioner? https://www.amazon.com/s?k=moroccan+oil+shampoo+and+conditioner&crid=2N10NZI1CI5UJ&sprefix=morroccan%2Caps%2C157&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_5_9
Unfortunately, we cannot recommend that brand at this time. Their ingredient lists contain undisclosed fragrance, and we can’t find any indication that they leave out things like phthalates. Their formulations also appear to include other chemicals of concern including things like cetrimonium chloride and cyclomethicone (suspected endocrine disruptors), quats, and more than a few “just okay” ingredients.
Hi! I have very thin, fine, curly and frizzy hair. What shampoo would you suggest. Thanks!
You might want to check out ATTITUDE’s shampoos and see if they work well for you! (https://attitudeliving.com/collections/shampoos) You could also try a custom formula/routine from Prose (https://prose.com/). Or Acure has a volumizing shampoo that might work well for you, too. (https://acure.com/products/vivacious-volume-shampoo?variant=42813707092181)
Hi, do you know about Biolage shampoos and conditioners? I didn’t see them anywhere in the article!
Overall, the ingredient lists on Biolage’s shampoos aren’t looking great. In addition to undisclosed fragrance ingredients (which could include phthalates, etc.), they also use skin irritants such as Methylisothiazolinone, SLS, and others. As far as I can tell, I don’t see any DMDM Hydantoin, though!
This article is such an eye-opener! My daughter received several bottles of J&J baby Shampoo, body was & lotion for her baby shower. My grandson is 11 months old & we still have more bottles left. My question is, how safe are these products to use or should we throw them away?
Hi Jennifer, We wouldn’t recommend J&J’s shampoos and lotions, primarily because they contain “fragrance,” which is how a lot of companies hide things like phthalates and other potentially problematic ingredients. (You can read more about that here: https://www.thefiltery.com/synthetic-fragrance-hidden-toxic-chemicals/). Not to mention, J&J has proven itself untrustworthy with its refusal to take responsibility for toxic talc in its baby powder, its role in the opioid epidemic, and other things. There are definitely better brands to use when it comes to baby care products. Honest, for example, is one of our favorites! https://www.honest.com/
I don’t have much body to my hair so I need a good shampoo that does not contain a conditioner. What would you recommend?
You might want to try out Attitude’s Volumizing Shampoo! https://attitudeliving.com/products/shampoo-volume-and-shine-super-leaves
What shampoos will be ok for my kids ages 4 to 12 to use without DMDM hydantoin?
Technically all of these shampoos will be safe for kids in terms of ingredients, BUT they are not necessarily “tear-free.” For non-toxic shampoos that are specifically for little ones, we’d recommend Honest, Pipette, or Healthynest. (If you scroll over those brands, you’ll see they are hyperlinked even though you can’t tell.) Of course, definitely check with your pediatrician if your child has any specific skin concerns or anything like that!
need a product that doesn’t dry my gray hair out & a curl activator
Here are a few safe shampoos you may want to check out that are specifically for curly hair:
It’s harder to find a non-toxic shampoo that’s specific to grey hair, but you might check out these ones:
Hope that helps!