by Linda A. Johnson
November 01, 2011
Two chemicals considered harmful to
babies remain in Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo sold in the U.S.,
even though the company already makes versions without them,
according to a coalition of health and environmental groups.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has unsuccessfully been
urging the world's largest health care company for 2½ years to
remove the trace amounts of potentially cancer-causing chemicals -
dioxane and a substance called
quaternium-15 that releases
formaldehyde - from Johnson's Baby Shampoo, one of its signature
Johnson & Johnson said it is reducing or gradually phasing out the
chemicals, but did not respond directly to the campaign's demands.
Now the group is ratcheting up the pressure and urging consumers to
boycott Johnson & Johnson baby products until the company agrees to
remove the chemicals from its baby products sold around the world.
"Johnson & Johnson clearly can make
safer baby shampoo in all the markets around the world, but it's
not doing it," said Lisa Archer, director of the
"It's clearly a double standard,
something they can easily fix."
Archer said her group has met with
Johnson & Johnson representatives three times since spring 2009, and
is disappointed the company is not making safer baby shampoo and
other products in the U.S. when it does elsewhere.
On Monday, the campaign sent Johnson & Johnson a letter, signed by
about 25 environmental, medical and other groups representing about
3.5 million people in the U.S. and other countries. It urges the
company to publicly commit by Nov. 15 to removing the chemicals from
all personal care products worldwide.
In response, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that
formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are safe and approved by
regulators in the U.S. and other countries, but that it is gradually
phasing them out of its baby products.
It said it is also reformulating baby
products to reduce the level of dioxane below detectable levels. But
it did not say whether it would respond to or meet the campaign's
The letter, addressed to CEO William Weldon, was signed by
groups including the,
Breast Cancer Fund
Environmental Working Group
Friends of the Earth
American Nurses Association
Physicians for Social
"Even though the chemicals may be
low-level, why risk it?" said Tracey J. Woodruff, an associate
professor and director of the Program on Reproductive Health and
the Environment at University of California-San Francisco.
Woodruff, who is not involved in
the campaign, noted that the chemical levels in the baby products
add to other chemicals infants are exposed to every day.
According to the report, obtained by The Associated Press, one of
the suspect chemicals, quaternium-15, is a preservative that kills
bacteria by releasing formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde, used as a
disinfectant and embalming fluid, was declared a known human
carcinogen this past June by the U.S. National Toxicology Program.
Formaldehyde also is a skin, eye and respiratory irritant.
Quaternium-15 is still an ingredient on Johnson & Johnson's Baby
Shampoo sold in the U.S., Canada, China, Indonesia and Australia,
but the campaign's research this summer found it's not in the same
product sold in at least eight other countries, from the U.K. and
Denmark to Japan and South Africa.
The second chemical, 1,4-dioxane, is considered a likely carcinogen.
It's a byproduct of a process for making chemicals more soluble and
gentler on the skin.
The campaign's May 2009 report, called "No More Toxic Tub," stated
that studies by an independent laboratory it hired, Analytical
Sciences LLC of Petaluma, Calif., found that 1,4-dioxane was
According to the report, the company has
since launched a baby shampoo called Johnson's Naturals, sold in the
U.S., that does not include 1,4-dioxane.
But original Johnson's baby shampoo,
which costs about half as much, has not been reformulated for the
U.S. market, according to the campaign.
Analytical Sciences tested multiple J&J baby product samples from
the U.S. for the first report, finding low levels of the chemicals.
After that, according to Archer, consumer groups in South Africa,
Sweden and Japan contacted her group to note that quaternium-15 was
not being used in products in their countries.
The updated report
was based on an examination of label ingredients for Johnson &
Johnson baby products in 13 countries.
Archer noted that some of the countries where the products did not
contain the harsh chemicals had bans on them in personal care
products, but others didn't.
Woodruff, who researches health effects of chemicals, said there is
evidence that formaldehyde is associated with nose, lung and blood
cancers such as leukemia.
She said an infant's scalp is more
permeable than an adult's, so exposure to the chemicals could cause
more harm for babies than adults.
"You're exposing a child during a
very vulnerable period of development, when the effect may be
worse," Woodruff said.