In a Nutshell:

  • DMDM hydantoin is used as a preservative in shampoo and other personal care products.

  • It’s what’s known as a formaldehyde-releaser. It releases small amounts of formaldehyde over time, exposing you to formaldehyde as you use it.

  • Formaldehyde is an irritant and carcinogen, which is why many consumers are switching to shampoo without DMDM hydantoin and other formaldehyde-releasers.
  • Some big brands (such as TRESemmé) have been sued because of the formaldehyde in their shampoo.

  • See below for even more recommendations!

We’ve written before 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 less well-known, and possibly worse: DMDM hydantoin.

If you have heard of DMDM hydantoin before (maybe because of some haircare companies getting sued?) but are wondering why it’s bad, we’ve got you covered.

I’ll talk about why DMDM is toxic, and then I’ll give you a list of shampoo and conditioner brands without DMDM hydantoin.

This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make honest recommendations.

What is DMDM Hydantoin?

DMDM hydantoin is a preservative, which means it keeps shampoo from growing mold and mildew and extends the shelf life. 

In general, that’s a good thing, but not all preservatives are created equal. Some are more toxic than others.

DMDM hydantoin is what’s known as a formaldehyde-releasing preservative, or FRP. So formaldehyde itself is not added to a product, but the FRP releases small amounts of formaldehyde into the product over time.

Are Formaldehyde Releasers Toxic?

Formaldehyde is linked to various negative health effects, from skin irritation to cancer.

Despite the fact that it’s a naturally-occurring chemical, it becomes a problem when we’re exposed to higher levels.

Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure. The National Cancer Institute warns that exposure exceeding 0.1ppm could cause short-term symptoms such as: 

  • watery eyes
  • burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • nausea
  • and skin irritation

But according to the F.D.A., longer term, more chronic effects that are associated with formaldehyde can include: 

  • increased of headaches
  • asthma
  • contact dermatitis (rash)
  • and cancer

People With Highest Risk for Formaldehyde Side Effects from FRPs

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.

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 where we can. This is why many people are switching to shampoos without DMDM hydantoin and other formaldehyde releasers.

Is There Formaldehyde in Shampoo?

Since DMDM hydantoin is an FRP (formaldehyde-releasing preservative), 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.

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

That said, because formaldehyde can cause scalp irritation, it could lead to hair thinning and reduced hair growth as these ingredients irritate the hair follicles.

Related:

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.

Because of this lawsuit, the F.D.A. updated its consumer warning about formaldehyde in hair smoothing products in March 2021.

Other brands that have been investigated for DMDM hydantoin include:

  • Aussie
  • Dove
  • Finesse
  • Got2b
  • It’s A 10
  • Keratin Complex
  • Maui Moisture
  • Nexxus
  • OGX
  • Paul Mitchell
  • TIGI Bed Head

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 products from developing mold and bacteria!)

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 wasn’t the worst and it wasn’t 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)
  • glyoxal

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.

It’s worth noting here that FRP sensitization rates are consistently higher in the U.S. than they are in Europe. (Sensitization occurs when someone develops an allergy to something when they’re exposed to it multiple times.) This is an example of why ingredient bans/restrictions are in place—and how they work!

Other Products That Commonly Contain Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde Releasing Ingredients

Here are some other common product categories that often contain FRPs:

Related:

The Best Shampoo Without DMDM Hydantoin (& Conditioners Too!)

While you’re looking for shampoo brands without DMDM hydantoin and sulfates, there are a few other ingredients you may want to watch out for. These ingredients aren’t FRPs, but they come with different issues. They include:

  • Fragrance: Because of the “fragrance loophole,” brands can “hide” over 3,500 different chemicals in their products without putting them on the label. Some of these ingredients (such as phthalates) are toxic.
  • Other problematic preservatives: Parabens are problematic because they are endocrine disruptors. Isothiazolinone preservatives are skin irritants.
  • Retinyl Palmitate: Very common in shampoo, this ingredient can become carcinogenic when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.

Now, here are some of my favorite brands!

100% Pure

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin 100 percent

Price: $18-$45

100% Pure also carries a variety of DMDM- and toxin-free shampoo based on your hair type: Grow More (to encourage hair growth), Moisture Drench (for deep hydration), Glossing (to smooth frizz), Restorative (for damaged hair), Volumizing, Healthy Scalp (for dandruff, itching, and clogged pores), and more.

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!


True Botanicals

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin True Botanicals Nourishing Shampoo

Price: $23.80

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 toxic chemical-free shampoos are packed with antioxidants and botanicals that thoroughly clean without stripping your hair of its color and natural oils.


Annmarie

Annemarie Shampoo

Price: $40

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!


Acure (Most Affordable)

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Acure

Price: $5.99-$9.99

Acure is great for all hair types because they offer several different types of shampoos: Simply Smoothing, Ultra Hydrating, Curiously Clarifying, Vivacious Volume, and Buildup Balancing

Their products have been free from parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, petrolatum, and formaldehyde since they first started in 2010.

Plus, this affordable non-toxic shampoo is easy to grab in-store at Target!

Buy Acure at:


Chagrin Valley (Plastic-Free / Zero Waste)

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Chagrin Valley

Price: $3.40-$10.50

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, and more.

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 (just like us!).


Beautycounter

shampoo without dmdm hydantoin from beaycounter

Price: $29

Beautycounter’s toxin-free Daily Shampoo and Conditioner is a popular pick from a trustworthy brand. I personally love the energizing citrus mimosa scent. This one is great for all hair types as well.


Wellnesse (Best TRESemmé Replacement)

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Wellnesse

Price: $20

If you’re looking for a smoothing shampoo to replace your TRÉSemme, check out Wellnesse. They have a Smoothing Shampoo, which is great for frizzy hair. Or try their Restoring Shampoo and Conditioner, which are great for all hair types.


Foxie

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Foxie

Price: $15-$17

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, gray, and white hair), and Vitameatavegamin Pineapple.


Baby Shampoos Without DMDM Hydantoin or Formaldehyde

Honest

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Honest

Price: $11.99-$17.99

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

shampoos without DMDM hydantoin Pipette

Price: $8.99

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.


Healthybaby

non-toxic diapers from Healthybaby on TheFiltery.com

Price: $65 (Concentrate Refill) – $75 (Starter Kit)

Healthybaby’s Shampoo & Body Wash Combo is made with 100% natural ingredients, making it suitable for your little one’s sensitive skin. It comes in a concentrate, so one bottle lasts a long time. Just refill your foaming soap dispenser.

It’s EWG Verified, too!


Lastly, 4 DMDM-free brands we get asked about a lot

None of these common (and beloved) brands list DMDM hydantoin on their ingredient list.

  • Raw Sugar Shampoo: Although Raw Sugar’s shampoos are free from sulfates and DMDM hydantoin, they still contain a few problematic ingredients, such as undisclosed fragrance and quats
  • Aveeno Shampoo: Although Aveeno does not list DMDM hydantoin on their ingredient labels, their shampoos contain other potentially toxic ingredients such as behentrimonium chloride (a quat), undisclosed fragrance.
  • Pantene Shampoo: While it appears that Pantene’s shampoo is free from DMDM hydantoin, some of their other haircare products (like mousse and styling gel) do contain formaldehyde-releasers. Their products also contain other problematic ingredients like undisclosed fragrance and isothiazolinone preservatives.
  • Garnier: Although Garnier’s shampoos don’t appear to contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, I don’t recommend them because they contain things like undisclosed fragrance, PEGs, silicones, artificial dyes, and other irritants.

Flowing Away From DMDM Hydantoin & Formaldehyde in Shampoo

When cleaning up your hair and skincare routine, switching to shampoo without DMDM hydantoin and other FRPs is a great step. Using non-toxic, Formaldehyde-free shampoo can help you lower your exposure to unnecessary toxins while preventing mild to severe hair loss and skin irritation in the short and long term!


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About Abbie

Abbie Davidson is the Creator & Editor of The Filtery. With almost a decade of experience in sustainability, she researches and writes content with the aim of helping people minimize environmental toxins in an in-depth yet accessible way.


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24 Comments

  1. Hi! I am looking for a new shampoo and conditioner that will help heal my hair after it being dried out by my college showers(which I am still currently using) and keep it healthy, long, and shiny… I have pretty thick and long hair that I just began highlighting, it’s pretty frizzy and has a natural loose curl/wave to it. What would you suggest for me? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Corbyn,
      ATTITUDE has some good options for shampoo for wavy/curly hair! You also may want to check out Prose, which offers customized options based on your own hair needs. 🙂

  2. Hi, I’m looking for an all natural and overall healthy soap that can be used for my hair. To make it more voluminous(not be so dull) have more hair growth(not have any more thinning spots on the top of my scalp) and lastly to help with dandruff that shows up occasionally! Your opinion matters since I know you guys have a lot more experience that I do with soaps. Thanks again for the help!!

    1. Hi Colette,
      Since you have a lot of specific needs for your hair, you might want to try out Prose. They do customized haircare routines with generally ‘clean’ ingredients.

  3. I am 76 years old and I am looking for a safe shampoo and conditioner for grey hair. Can you please advise?
    Thank you.
    Regards,
    Elaine Sleath

    1. Hi Elaine,
      If you want to use a purple shampoo, here are a few brands you may want to check out:
      https://acure.com/products/ionic-blonde-color-wellness-shampoo?variant=42813703323861
      https://hivebrands.com/products/superzero-purple-shampoo-bar
      https://innersensebeauty.com/product/bright-balance-purple-shampoo/
      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.

    1. Hi Susie,
      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.

    1. Hi Jessica,

      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!

  4. 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?

    1. 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://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/

  5. 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?

    1. Hi JB,
      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!

    1. Hi! My hair is almost completely white and is thin, fine and getting sparse. Is there anything you could suggest using? I don’t need a shampoo for white hair, though. I don’t use conditioner anymore as it weighs my hair down but yet it’s fly away. Also, I’ve heard liquid melatonin helps scalp with hair growth. Do you know if that is true?