Sodium Formate: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

This article was last updated on: November 25, 2023

Ever found yourself squinting at the ingredients list on the back of a cosmetic product, feeling utterly perplexed? You’re not alone. The world of cosmetic ingredients can often seem like a labyrinth of scientific jargon, leaving us guessing about what these substances actually do for our skin.

One such ingredient that you might have spotted is Sodium Formate. Its scientific-sounding name can be somewhat intimidating, conjuring images of chemistry labs rather than beauty regimes. But what exactly is Sodium Formate, and why is it used in cosmetics?

In this article, we’ll dive into the details of Sodium Formate. We’ll explore its role in cosmetic products, shedding light on an ingredient that often remains shrouded in mystery for many consumers.

What is Sodium Formate?

In the realm of cosmetics, Sodium Formate is an ingredient that may not be widely recognized by its name, yet it plays a crucial role. Also known by its chemical name, HCOONa, this compound is used in various cosmetic products.

Sodium Formate is produced through the neutralization of formic acid with sodium carbonate. It primarily serves as a preservative in cosmetic formulations, helping to maintain the product’s integrity and prolong its shelf life. Its effectiveness lies in its ability to inhibit the growth of microbes, ensuring that the product remains safe and effective during its usage period.

Typically, the concentration of Sodium Formate in cosmetic products is quite low, usually well below 1%. This low concentration is sufficient for it to act effectively as a preservative without impacting the overall formulation of the product.

Who Can Use Sodium Formate?

Sodium Formate is a versatile ingredient suitable for a variety of skin types. Due to its gentle nature and low concentration in products, it is generally well-tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin. However, as with any cosmetic ingredient, individual reactions can vary.

For vegans and vegetarians, Sodium Formate is a suitable choice. This ingredient is synthetically produced and does not involve any animal-derived components or by-products in its manufacturing process, making it a viable option for those adhering to vegan or vegetarian lifestyles.

Regarding its use by pregnant or breastfeeding women, Sodium Formate, due to its low concentration and use as a preservative, is generally considered safe. However, it is always advisable for pregnant or breastfeeding women to consult with a healthcare provider before making changes to their skincare or cosmetic routines, to ensure the safety and suitability of the products for their specific situation.

Sodium Formate’s Cosmetic Uses

In cosmetics, ingredients are often categorized as “active” or “non-active.” Active ingredients are those that have a direct effect on the skin, such as anti-aging or moisturizing properties. Non-active ingredients, on the other hand, play a supporting role. They are essential for product formulation but do not directly impact the skin’s appearance or health. Sodium Formate falls into this latter category as a non-active ingredient.

Given its role as a preservative, Sodium Formate’s benefits in cosmetics are crucial for product integrity and user safety:

  • Inhibition of Microbial Growth: Sodium Formate works effectively to prevent the proliferation of bacteria and other microbes in cosmetic products. By doing so, it ensures the product remains safe for use throughout its intended shelf life. This is particularly important for water-based products, which can be breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi if not properly preserved.
  • Enhancement of Product Shelf Life: By inhibiting microbial growth, Sodium Formate directly contributes to extending the shelf life of cosmetic products. This means that products do not spoil prematurely, maintaining their effectiveness and safety over a longer period. This is crucial for consumer satisfaction and brand reputation.
  • Maintenance of Product Integrity: Sodium Formate helps in maintaining the consistency, texture, and aroma of cosmetic products. By preventing microbial contamination, it ensures that the product’s original formulation remains unchanged over time. This consistency is key to ensuring that consumers have the same experience with the product every time they use it.
  • Safety in Usage: As a preservative, Sodium Formate plays a critical role in ensuring that cosmetic products are safe to use. This is especially vital in products applied to sensitive areas, such as the eyes or lips, where the risk of infection from contaminated products can have serious consequences.

Each of these benefits is a direct result of Sodium Formate’s function as a preservative, highlighting its importance in the formulation and longevity of cosmetic products.

Sodium Formate Potential Side Effects

While Sodium Formate is generally considered safe in cosmetics, reactions to this ingredient can vary from person to person. This variation is partly due to individual differences in skin type, with some people having more sensitive or reactive skin than others. To understand how your skin type might influence your reaction to cosmetic ingredients, including Sodium Formate, you can refer to this guide on determining your skin type.

When it comes to side effects and potential interactions of Sodium Formate, the following should be noted:

  • Skin Irritation: Some individuals may experience mild irritation, especially if they have sensitive skin. This can manifest as redness, itching, or a burning sensation upon application.
  • Allergic Reactions: Although rare, allergic reactions can occur. Symptoms might include redness, swelling, itching, or the development of a rash.
  • Dryness: In some cases, products containing Sodium Formate may cause skin dryness, particularly if used frequently or in high concentrations.

If you experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Sodium Formate, it’s advisable to discontinue use immediately and consult a healthcare professional, especially if symptoms persist or worsen.

It’s important to note that adverse reactions to Sodium Formate are rare. Generally, this ingredient is considered safe and effective for use in cosmetic products. However, individual experiences may vary, underscoring the importance of patch-testing new products before full application. For guidance on how to conduct a patch test effectively, check out our patch testing guide. Patch testing helps to minimize the risk of adverse reactions and is a crucial step in a responsible skincare routine.

Comedogenic Rating

Sodium Formate is assigned a comedogenic rating of 0/5.

This rating means it is non-comedogenic, indicating it is highly unlikely to clog pores or contribute to acne formation. The rationale behind this rating lies in the chemical structure and function of Sodium Formate. Furthermore, its typical use in low concentrations within cosmetic products reduces the likelihood of any comedogenic effects. Therefore, Sodium Formate is generally considered suitable for those who are prone to acne or breakouts.


Not all ingredients in personal care products have a direct, visible impact on the skin. Some, like Sodium Formate, are there to support the overall formulation, acting as non-active ingredients. These components are essential for the product’s stability, safety, and efficacy.

Sodium Formate is noteworthy for its role as a preservative, ensuring products remain safe and effective over time. Its ability to inhibit microbial growth without causing skin irritation or clogging pores makes it a valuable addition to many cosmetic formulations.

In terms of popularity, Sodium Formate is not as widely discussed as some other cosmetic ingredients. However, its importance should not be underestimated. It’s a common ingredient in the sense that it’s found in various products, albeit often overshadowed by more active ingredients. In its role as a preservative, it’s similar to other compounds like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate, though each has its unique properties and suitability for different product types.

For those concerned about incorporating products with Sodium Formate into their skincare routine, the key takeaway is its safety profile. It’s a generally well-tolerated ingredient, especially considering its low concentration in cosmetic products. While it may not be the star of the show, Sodium Formate plays a crucial backstage role in maintaining the quality and safety of many skincare and cosmetic products.

Tell us how you found this article in just a couple of clicks!
Delivered right to your inbox each week. Zero spam, all goodness, opt-out at anytime.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
How did you find this article?
Tell us how you found this article in just a couple of clicks!
Get all our top headlines in beauty.
Delivered right to your inbox each week. Zero spam, all goodness, opt-out at anytime.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Send good feedback:

All feedback is anonymous and will be used to improve the quality of our articles.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Send bad feedback:

All feedback is anonymous and will be used to improve the quality of our articles.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.