Many popular children's bath products on the market contain the cancer-causing chemicals formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane, a study has found.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, based in Washington, D.C., tested the best-known brands available in North America containing ingredients with a high-risk of contamination. The results, released Thursday, show that 17 of 28 — or 61 per cent — contained both toxins, including some products pitched to parents as gentle and natural.
They include Johnson's Baby Shampoo, L'Oreal Kids Extra Gentle 2-in-1 Fast Dry Shampoo, Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea Baby Wash, Gerber's Grins & Giggles Milk & Honey Baby Wash. Bubble bath products branded with popular children's characters also tested positive for both chemicals, including Barbie, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Hot Wheels and Tinker Bell.
"Companies are doing an excellent job of marketing products to kids and making products attractive to kids, but they're not necessarily looking at how to make products as safe as they possibly can for kids," co-author Stacy Malkan said in an interview.
Twenty-three of 28 products (82 per cent) contained formaldehyde at levels ranging from 54 to 610 parts per million.
The levels of dioxane, found in 32 out of 48 products (67 per cent), ranged from 0.27 to 33 ppm.
"I think these companies can absolutely do better and they need to do better," said Malkan.
Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., shot back Thursday, saying the trace levels of certain compounds found "can result from processes that make our products gentle for babies and safe from bacteria growth. The (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and other government agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe, and all our products meet or exceed the regulatory requirements in every country where they are sold."
The statement expressed "disappointment" that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics "has inaccurately characterized the safety of our products, misrepresented the overwhelming consensus of scientists and government agencies that review the safety of ingredients, and unnecessarily alarmed parents. We want to reassure parents that Johnson's Baby Shampoo and all our baby and kids products are safe, gentle and mild products that they can trust and use with confidence."
Mike Patton, spokesman for the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, echoed the sentiment, saying the report is "irresponsible."
In Canada, both chemicals are on Health Canada's cosmetics hotlist, which means they cannot be used as ingredients in makeup or personal-care products, but are allowed in trace amounts in levels higher than detected in the study. There are a few exceptions for formaldehyde, which is permitted as in ingredient at low concentrations to provide antimicrobial preservation.
Internationally, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2004 classified formaldehyde as a carcinogenic to humans in 2004 after 26 scientists from 10 countries evaluated the available evidence.
The U.S. Department of Human Health and Services says dioxane is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, highlighting that consumers can be exposed to the chemical in detergents, shampoos and surfactants, says "the presence of 1,4-dioxane, even as a trace contaminant, is cause for concern."
The source of dioxane contamination is a chemical conversion process used to soften the chemicals that make products bubbly. For example, sodium lauryl sulphate, which makes bubbles, is converted to sodium laureth sulphate, which makes the product milder on the skin but the conversion also creates dioxane.
In the case of formaldehyde, the toxin likely is released from ingredients that act as preservatives, namely Quaternium-15, DMDM, hydantoin or Diazolidinyl urea, according to the report.
Polyethylene glycol (PEG), a family of synthetic chemicals widely used by cosmetic manufacturers, is also used for this purpose, according to the report, which recommends parents read all cosmetic labels and avoid baby bath products that contain these chemicals.
Some companies, including Peter Rabbit Organics, Nature's Baby and Weleda, have moved away from these ingredients to make sure their products aren't contaminated with the toxins. Whole Foods, which has six stores in Canada, has introduced a premium body care seal as an incentive for companies to reformulate.
"Companies are already making products that are perfectly sudsy and well-preserved without any of these chemicals that are at high-risk for contamination," said Malkan.
Michelle Kertesz of Richmond, B.C., finds the survey results disquieting, but hardly surprising.
The mother of two young girls, ages 2 1/2 and seven months, has long avoided products with the ingredient Quaternium-15 as a result of her training in the health-care field. "We used that for disinfectants. They'd make sure we didn't touch it with our bare hands and here we're putting in our shampoos."
But since the birth of her first child a few years, she's taken it upon herself to read up on dozens of other chemicals from as many sources as she can to determine if she wanted her child exposed to them.
"There are 40 different ingredients (listed) and 30 I couldn't pronounce and I don't know what they are," said Kertesz, who has found a line of organic products for her little girls that isn't contaminated with any carcinogen or another toxins.
"If we can't have faith in companies selling products to our babies, who do you have faith in?," she asked.
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