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Pure and Gentle? Children's Products Can Be Deceptive

A Case Study of Johnson's Baby Shampoo, from the report, "No More Toxic Tub"
March 12th, 2009

There may be no more iconic baby product than Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. But the well-known claim that it is “as gentle to the eyes as pure water” just doesn’t measure up. Unfortunately, there are no legal standards that require products with such marketing claims to contain the safest ingredients available.

According to the packaging, the product is “made from a very special combination of ingredients designed not to irritate delicate skin or eyes” and is “soap free, hypo-allergenic and dermatologist tested.” It is also “the number one choice of hospitals.”

However, our test results for Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, conducted by an independent lab for our "No More Toxic Tub" report, found levels of formaldehyde (200 and 210 ppm) that may be enough to trigger skin reactions in especially sensitive people. The formaldehyde in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is likely a byproduct from the preservative Quaternium-15, which is used in many bath products, yet is known to sensitize skin.

Some research indicates that it may be one of the leading sensitizing preservatives. All the products tested for this report that contain Quaternium-15 had at least 200 ppm of formaldehyde.

Quaternium-15 is not the only chemical of concern in this product. This shampoo contains D&C Orange 4, a color additive “not approved by FDA for cosmetics used around eyes.”

It also contains fragrance. Like contaminants, the ingredients in fragrance are not required to be listed on personal care product labels. Fragrance can contain hundreds of chemicals that studies show may be linked to a variety of health problems, including allergies and skin reactions.

Advertising claims appeal to parent’s desire to be gentle and loving to their children, but with so many ingredients of concern, parents need to look twice before they buy.

More Information

Report: "No More Toxic Tub"
EWG's Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products