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“No More Tears” For Baby

…bathe in the tub

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by Heidi Hauser Green
August 20, 2012

There’s good news and bad news for those of us concerned about the chemicals in everyday products like body washes, shampoos, and facial cleaners. The good news: Health and beauty mega-corporation Johnson & Johnson has said it will remove harsh chemicals from all of its baby and adult products. The bad news: Reformulated products are still months (and, in the case of adult products, years) away from store shelves.

Cause for concern
For years, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been calling on U.S. personal care product manufacturers to remove carcinogenic chemicals from their products. In 2009, the Campaign focused its attention on Johnson & Johnson.

Although famous worldwide for its “No More Tears” line of infant and child products, the manufacturer is also the company behind Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Clean & Clear. The same company that makes Desitin to smooth babies’ chapped bottoms is behind RoC anti-wrinkle cream. Researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that many of the products contain 1,4-dioxane and quaternium-15, which slowly releases formaldehyde as a preservative. Formaldehyde is recognized as a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable carcinogen; both are skin irritants.

Changes to come
Johnson & Johnson’s goals are to:

  • Remove quarternium-15 from all of its products within two years, and from baby products sooner.
  • Reduce traces of 1,4-dioxane to less than four parts per million, and continue to seek alternatives.
  • Phase out parabens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been implicated in reproductive cancers, in all baby products.
  • Restrict parabens in new adult products to methyl, ethyl, and propyl parabens, because these “have been extensively tested for safety.”
  • Phase out triclosan, a common antibacterial chemical, which has been linked to liver and thyroid problems, as well as reduced muscle and heart function.

The company has already removed phthalates from its baby products, and made some products without 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals (see the Soothing Naturals line). Such actions are voluntary, since the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not regulate cosmetic products.

Positive press?
For Johnson & Johnson, this announcement aims to create positive press for a company that has seen one negative headline after another in recent years. Johnson & Johnson has issued more than two dozen product recalls since 2009 for problems including glass and metal shards in liquid medications, lack of sterility of medical sutures, and bacterial contamination of baby lotion. Earlier this summer, several of its baby wash products (i.e., Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, Johnson & Johnson Bedtime Bath, Aveeno Soothing Relief Creamy Wash) were found to trigger false positive tests in drug-free babies, causing many to suggest that parents avoid these products at least during the hospital stay.

Although Johnson & Johnson maintains that the current formulations of its products are safe, the company has launched a new “Our Safety & Care Commitment” website and initiative to provide “transparency” about its baby and beauty products, and to respond to consumer’s concerns.

“Every one of our products on the market today is safe when used as directed,” the company asserts, “but Our Safety & Care Commitment takes us beyond safety alone, to meet your highest expectations of us. If consumers raise concerns about an ingredient, even if that ingredient meets government safety regulations and is supported by science, we’ll always listen. In order to protect your peace of mind, we’ll often set a goal of reducing or eliminating that ingredient, and developing new alternatives through our continued research and development efforts.”

Not for safety, then, is Johnson & Johnson reformulating its baby products (by the end of 2013) and adult products (by the end of 2015)—but for consumer “peace of mind.”

Still, it’s an improvement. Responsiveness to consumer concerns is an admirable quality, and the company’s decisions do set it ahead of other big name baby and beauty product companies in the U.S.

Recommendations for parents

  • Stick to water-only for baby’s bath. See “Splish Splash, Baby’s Bath” for more tips on washing your baby.
  • Research the products you choose. Johnson & Johnson’s site promises product transparency, and the EWG database provides information on thousands of personal care products, for young and old alike.
  • Speak up. Johnson & Johnson acknowledges that consumer concerns help to shape its product decision-making. Communicate with manufacturers.

Don’t go looking on store shelves for big label products that fulfill all of these promises yet; for the most part, they’re not there. But Johnson & Johnson’s new commitment—if it comes to pass as stated—could be a big step toward seeing that happen.

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