Mom Health

Quaternium-15 in Mascara May Mean Formaldehyde by Your Eyes

Written by andy

It’s a lot worse than you’d think!

Cosmetics manufacturers have the unenviable job of trying to find the right balance between natural and effective. They can’t make products that harm your body, but they have to try to find a way to make their products last as long as possible. This often means adding chemical ingredients that are mostly safe, but which may cause negative side effects.

One such ingredient is Quaternium-15 in mascara, a known skin toxicant and allergen. It’s often added to your mascara products, as it’s both a preservative and a surfactant–a compound that reduces the surface tension of your cosmetics. This helps to make the liquids easier to apply, thereby making your mascara more effective.

So you can see why Quaternium-15 in mascara is added, but are cosmetics manufacturers putting your health at risk by including it?

Well, the truth is that there is a “statistically significant” relationship between Quaternium-15 and formaldehyde. In one study, it was discovered that over 5% of test subjects reacted negatively to both Quaternium-15 and formaldehyde, and there were formaldehyde reactions in 51 out of 137 patients. The study points to a relation between Quaternium-15 and formaldehyde, though further research is needed to find a more definitive link.

But, as you have no doubt suspected, there is a potential risk of using mascara that contains Quaternium-15. Not only could it increase your risk of reacting negatively to formaldehyde, a chemical often found in the air, but it can cause allergic reactions and skin toxicity.

So why not just avoid it? Find products that are free of Quaternium-15, right? Sadly, that’s easier said than done.

Quaternium-15 is found in a broad range of products:

  • Hair styling products
  • Mascara
  • Lotions and creams
  • Hair conditioners
  • Cleansers
  • Household cleaning products
  • Eye drops contact solutions
  • Shaving products

You’d be amazed by how common the ingredient is. Even if you try to eliminate it from your beauty products, you may still be exposed to it via other household products.

READ MORE: 8 Chemicals in Cosmetics to Know About

The good news is that the negative side effects of Quaternium-15 are usually fairly minor. For most people, the worst that happens is minor skin irritation or a bit of an allergic reaction. Some redness, itching, and minor inflammation, all of which can be dealt with by discontinuing the use of products that contain Quaternium-15.

But the fact that Quaternium-15 causes these side effects is a concern in and of itself. It’s an ingredient you should try to eliminate from your household as much as possible, if only to reduce your risk of negative side effects.

Here are a few names to look for on the labels of your beauty and household products:

  • Polyquaternium – followed by a number (i.e. polyquaternium-6).
  • Centrimonium bromide
  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Quaternium-15
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
  • Benzethonium chloride

If you see any of these ingredients in your products, you may be better off putting them back on the shelf and finding a product that DOESN’T contain some form of Quaternium-15.

In Europe, Quaternium-15 is highly regulated by the Cosmetics Directive of the European Union. It’s not allowed to be used in more than 0.2% concentration in all cosmetics and beauty products, meaning most European products will be fairly safe to use. Sadly, the U.S. has not regulated the use of Quaternium-15, meaning the beauty products that contain this ingredient may have more of it than is good for you. If you’re buying American-made products and you notice Quaternium-15 (by one of the names listed above) on the list of ingredients, you’d do well to avoid them.


About the author


Some people get lucky and are born with fit, toned bodies. Andy Peloquin is not one of those people... Fitness has come hard for him, and he's had to work for it. His trials have led him to becoming a martial artist, an NFPT-certified fitness trainer, and a man passionate about exercise, diet and healthy living. He loves to exercise--he does so six days a week--and loves to share his passion for fitness and health with others.

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