Toxic Baby Shampoo: Johnson & Johnson Agrees to Global Reformulation Under Pressure from Health Groups

More than two years after leading health and parents' groups asked Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) to reformulate its flagship baby shampoo to remove a chemical that releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, the company is still using the formaldehyde-releasing ingredient in Johnson's Baby Shampoo in the United States, Canada and China, while making formaldehyde-free versions of the shampoo in several other countries, according to a new analysis conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

“Clearly there is no need for Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to a known carcinogen when the company is already making safer alternatives. All babies deserve safer products,” said Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund.

Yesterday, after Johnson & Johnson received word of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report, the company released a statement saying it is no longer introducing new products with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and has reduced its use of the chemical by 60 percent in the U.S. market and 33 percent globally over the past few years.

“We know that some consumers are concerned about formaldehyde, which is why we offer many products without formaldehyde releasing preservatives, and are phasing out these types of preservatives in our baby products worldwide,” said the statement.

Archer commented, “We're glad to see that the Johnson & Johnson is taking this seriously. This commitment is a big step in the right direction. We look forward to the day when we can tell consumers the company's entire product line is free of carcinogens and other chemicals of concern.”

For the new analysis, entitled Baby's Tub Is Still Toxic, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics purchased and reviewed labels of Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in 13 countries to see if the products contained quaternium-15, a chemical preservative that kills bacteria by releasing formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde was recently added to the U.S. government list of known human carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program, under the Department of Health and Human Services. Formaldehyde and quaternium-15 are also potent allergens that can trigger rashes and other skin inflammation problems. According to a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association, quaternium-15 is “the most sensitizing formaldehyde-releasing preservative and has been repeatedly shown to be a strong allergen that can cause contact dermatitis.”

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics analysis reveals that Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in the United States, Australia, Canada, China and Indonesia contains quaternium-15, while Johnson's Baby Shampoo formulas sold in Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the U.K. contain non-formaldehyde preservatives.

“The American Nurses Association has adopted a precautionary approach based on the Precautionary Principle. In this application, even in the face of scientific uncertainty, if a chemical is strongly suspected of potential harm, it should be exchanged for a safer substitute,” said Amy Garcia M.S.N., R.N., C.A.E., Chief Programs Officer, Executive Office, American Nurses Association.

"Preventing toxic chemical exposures before they happen is the keystone of corporate responsibility. We call on Johnson & Johnson to remove carcinogenic formaldehyde from its products. It's time to protect all children, regardless of their nationality," said Peter Wilk, M.D., executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In May 2009, ANA and PSR joined the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and many other health and environmental groups in formally asking Johnson & Johnson to reformulate its baby products after lab tests revealed that Johnson's Baby Shampoo contained two carcinogens—formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane—that were not listed on labels.

In September 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wrote again to Johnson & Johnson, asking the company to immediately remove the formaldehyde-releasing chemical quaternium-15 from its baby products in light of new research linking the chemical to increased rates of allergic contact dermatitis.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and ANA have since met several times with Johnson & Johnson executives to discuss these concerns.

In response to consumer demand, the company launched a new “natural” version of baby shampoo that does not contain chemicals associated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane. However, the original Johnson's Baby Shampoo, which is priced at about one-half the cost of the new “natural” shampoo, has not been reformulated in the U.S. market.

Yesterday, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics—along with the American Nurses Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and more than 20 other parents' and health groups representing more than 3 million people—sent another letter to Johnson & Johnson, asking the company to remove formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from all its children's products in all markets worldwide and replace them with safer alternatives. The letter asked for the company to make a commitment by November 15.

“While it is encouraging to see that Johnson & Johnson has made progress in formulating a safer 'natural' version of its iconic baby shampoo, now is the time for the company to rise to the occasion and make the safer products the world market is demanding for all its customers.” said Archer.
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