Recently I wrote about the so-called Natural Society’s hypocrisy in criticizing cellulose as indigestible food filler while at the same time using it in the dietary supplements they sell. This offense is minor compared to the gaffe they’ve committed in their virulent anti-GMO campaign.
The Natural Society doesn’t like formaldehyde.1 I mean, they really don’t like formaldehyde.2,3 Ranting about the supposed natural production of this compound by GMO soy, author Christina Sarich terrifies readers with tales of an IARC Group 1 carcinogen skulking in their food, while compatriot Patrick Gallagher warns that even the vapor content is so dangerous it should be avoided.
So: why is the Natural Society selling formaldehyde to their followers?
Don’t believe me? Let’s visit the Natural Society online store. Here’s a nice 8-ounce jar of Sombra Pain Relieving Gel:
The list of ingredients seems innocent at first, but I’ve highlighted something interesting:
As Winnie the Pooh is famous for saying: “Oh, bother!”. Sodium ‘hydromethylglycinate’, the preservative in Natural Society’s Sombra gel, is either accidentally or intentionally misspelled. We can go to the Sombra web site and confirm it’s actually sodium hydroxymethylglycinate: a compound known as a “formaldehyde releaser.”
As you might guess from the name, a formaldehyde releaser slowly releases formaldehyde into a product over time. The purpose is to act as a preservative, deterring the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other undesired “guests.” Here’s the correctly-spelled ingredient list, courtesy the Sombra web site:11
For a small fee, the Natural Society could have gone through PubMed or PubChem and purchased access to one of the many papers confirming their favored preservative’s role in releasing formaldehyde into the product they’re selling.5,6,7 It cost me just $6.00 and 15 minutes of reading time to learn about sodium hydroxymethylglycinate in “Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy”: 5
But it gets worse. Like so many other snake oil peddlers on the internet, Natural Society quotes the non-science-based Environmental Work Group (EWG) at every drop of the hat.8,9 And even EWG pegged the formaldehyde releasing capabilities of sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.10
So where did Natural Society go wrong? Was it a lack of research?
“After working to find all of the best brands in the industry, we settled on Sombra’s Cool Therapy gel after over an entire year of testing and research.” 4
Whoa. An entire year of testing and research, and they missed the formaldehyde?
Or did they?
Remember Christina Sarich, the Society writer/formaldehyde-hater we discussed at the beginning of this article? Here she is again, writing for the Natural Society on the subject of toxic formaldehyde releasers in skin care products:
“Furthermore, many face and body soaps contain ‘antibiotic cleansers’ like Triclosan. What else? Benzethonium chloride, artificial colorants, BHA, BHT, silicone derived emollients, parabens, and Formaldehyde releasers [DMDM hydantoin diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, N-(Hydroxymethyl) glycine, monosodium salt, and quaternium-15]. YUCK!”12
Holy GMO-free sh*t! The same author who writes about the dangers of carcinogenic formaldehyde in GMO food also warns about it avoiding in skin care products–then turns around and sells it to you.
And all of this after an entire year of testing and research. Cojones the size of Texas! But I weep for the masses who hand their hard-earned money to businesses like this.
Revision history: corrected spelling of cojones (10 Dec 2015);
corrected title of reference (6) (12 Dec 2015)
Natural Society, Sombra screen and product snapshots are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, from “Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Part 1. Characterization, frequency and relevance of sensitization, and frequency of use in cosmetics” 5, used under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”) with the intent of providing education.
(1) Study: GMO Soy Accumulates Cancer-causing Formaldehyde
(2) New Study: GMO Soy Accumuluates Cancerous Formaldehyde
(3) Styrene and Formaldehyde Use Causing Health Complications
(4) Sombra Pain Relief Cream on Natural Society Shopping Page
(5) Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Part 1. Characterization, frequency and relevance of sensitization, and frequency of use in cosmetics.
Contact Dermatitis. 2010 Jan;62(1):2-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2009.01615.x.
de Groot AC1, White IR, Flyvholm MA, Lensen G, Coenraads PJ.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0536.2009.01615.x/abstract (full text, last accessed 08 Dec 2015)
(6) Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
Dermatitis. 2010 Mar-Apr;21(2):109-10.
Russell K1, Jacob SE.
(7) Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate: a potential formaldehyde-releasing preservative in child products.
Dermatitis. 2009 Nov-Dec;20(6):347-9.
Jacob SE1, Hsu JW.
(8) Natural Society Quotes EWG: Toxic Flame Retardants in Baby Products
(9) Natural Society Quotes EWG: Glyphosate Doubles Cancer Risk
(10) EWG: Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
(11) Sombra Gel Ingredients (manufacturer website)
(12) Five Healthier Swaps for Expensive Toxic Skin Care Products
Excellent post as ever, only very slightly tainted by the use of the word “cajones”, not for the first time. It’s cojones.
Sorry to take away from the intention of the article – please feel free to delete this comment after you’ve seen it – but as a Spanish speaker, it really grates.
Hi Roger. Actually I’ll make a correction and note the mistake at the end of the article. I take offense at the pseudoscientists not owning up to their mistakes so it would be very bad if I did not own up to mine. Thank you for pointing out the error!
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Perhaps you don’t know that even poison in small amounts in the right places acts as medicine. There is nothing scandalous about using negligible amounts of poison for medicinal purposes. It doesn’t take away our right to avoid or protest the use of harmful chemicals in our day to day lives, in unnatural ways.
As I pointed out, the scandal here is warning people not to buy skin care products with a named formaldehyde releaser and then selling that very same ingredient in such a product in your online store.
I’d also be very interested in learning WHERE Natural Society says formaldehyde is a medicine. Everything I’ve read from them says to avoid it–they say it’s a carcinogen.