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Baby's Tub Is Still Toxic

by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
November 1st, 2011

Johnson's Baby Shampoo
Download "Baby's Tub Is Still Toxic"

Update! Prompted by growing concerns raised by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be removing carcinogens and other toxic chemicals from its baby and adult products globally. See statement.

Press release: Johnson & Johnson Promises to Remove Carcinogens from Baby Products (Nov. 16, 2011)

Press release: Toxic Baby Shampoo: Johnson & Johnson Agrees to Global Reformulation Under Pressure from Health Groups (Nov. 1, 2011)

More than two years after leading health and parents' groups asked Johnson & Johnson to reformulate its flagship baby shampoo to remove a cancer-causing chemical,(i) the company is still using formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in Johnson's Baby Shampoo in some countries (including the U.S.), while formulas sold in other countries are free of these chemicals, according to this analysis conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Why the double standard? Don't all babies deserve to be protected from unnecessary exposures to carcinogens? We're calling on Johnson & Johnson to stand up and make a commitment to remove formaldehyde from all its baby products in all the markets it serves.

What We Found

Between July and October of 2011, 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.

We found that Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in the United States, Australia, Canada, China and Indonesia contains quaternium-15, while Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the U.K. contain non-formaldehyde preservatives.

Obviously, it is possible for Johnson & Johnson to make baby shampoo without formaldehyde, and that's what the company should be doing in all countries.

The Problem with Quaternium-15

Quaternium-15 releases formaldehyde into cosmetics products. Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(ii) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The National Cancer Institute, the World Health Organization and the National Toxicology Program have all identified a possible link between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia.(iii,iv,v)

Formaldehyde and quaternium-15 are also potent allergens that can trigger rashes and other skin inflammation problems.(vi) The North American Contact Dermatitis Group considers quaternium-15 to be among the most clinically significant contact allergens in children.(vii)

Timeline of J&J Engagement

Leading health and environmental groups in the United States have sent letters and met with Johnson & Johnson executives several times over the past two and a half years to urge the company to reformulate its baby products to remove chemicals of concern, including quaternium-15.

  • March 2009: A report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, No More Toxic Tub, revealed that Johnson's Baby Shampoo, along with many other children's bath products, contained two carcinogens—formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane—that were not listed on labels.
  • May 2009: More than 40 organizations representing 1.7 million parents, health care providers and environmental health advocates wrote to Johnson & Johnson, detailing their concerns about the toxic chemicals found in the company's baby products.
  • September 2009: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics again wrote to Johnson & Johnson, asking the company to immediately remove the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15 from its baby products in light of new research linking the chemical to increased rates of allergic contact dermatitis.
  • 2009-2011: The American Nurses Association and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics met several times with Johnson & Johnson executives to discuss concerns about formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.
  • October 2011: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, American Nurses Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many other health and parents' groups delivered another letter to Johnson & Johnson asking the company to commit to removing formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from all its children's products in all markets worldwide by November 15, 2011.

  • In response to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report, Baby's Tub is Still Toxic, Johnson & Johnson released a statement on Oct. 31, 2011 saying it is phasing out formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from its baby products worldwide.

What You Can Do

Write to Congress: Ask your U.S. Representative to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011.

i Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2009). No More Toxic Tub: Getting Contaminants Out of Children’s Bath & Personal Care Products. http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/NoMoreToxicTub_Mar09Report.pdf

Letter to Johnson & Johnson, May 2009. http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/JNJ-sign-on-letter_May09.pdf

ii U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report on Carcinogens. Available: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsroom/releases/2011/june10/

iii National Cancer Institute 2011. Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk. Available: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde

iv Baan, Robert, et al on behalf of the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group (WHO/IARC). A review of human carcinogens—Part F: Chemical agents and related occupations. The Lancet Oncology, Volume 10, Issue 12, Pages 1143 - 1144, December 2009.

v Mackar, Robin. Expert Panel Recommends Listing Formaldehyde as Known Human Carcinogen. Environmental Factor, December 2009. Available: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/december/spotlight-expert.cfm

vi Jacob, Sharon E.; Breithaupt, Andrew (2009). Environmental exposures, a pediatric perspective on allergic contact dermatitis. Skin & Aging, July 2009. http://www.skinandaging.com/content/environmental-exposures-%E2%80%94-a-pediatric-perspective-on-allergic-contact-dermatitis

vii Moennich, Jessica N.; Hanna, Diane M.; Jacob, Sharon E. (2009). Formaldehyde-releasing preservative in baby and cosmetic products: Health risks related to exposure during infancy. Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association. 1(3):211-214, May/June 2009.