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Is the Leading Baby Shampoo Toxic?

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By Erika F. Washington
November 16, 2011

More than two years ago, leading health and parents’ groups asked Johnson & Johnson to reformulate its baby shampoo to remove a chemical that releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The company still is using the formaldehyde-releasing ingredient in its baby shampoo sold in the United States, 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,” says Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund.

A carcinogen is any substance known to cause cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified some 60 substances as probably or definitely carcinogenic to humans. 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.

For its new analysis, Baby’s Tub Is Still Toxic, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics purchased bottles of Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo sold in 13 countries to the Campaign’s home office to see if the products contained quaternium-15, a chemical preservative that kills bacteria by releasing formaldehyde.

The baby shampoo sold in the United States, Australia, Canada, China, and Indonesia contains quaternium-15, while its formulas sold in Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the U.K. contain non-formaldehyde preservatives. The difference is perhaps due to the lack of laws regulating toxins in cosmetics and personal products in the former countries, particularly the United States.

Johnson & Johnson launched a new “natural” version of baby shampoo that does not contain chemicals associated with formaldehyde. The original Johnson& Johnson’s baby shampoo, however, which is priced at about one-half the cost of the new “natural” shampoo, has not been reformulated for the U.S. market.

Johnson & Johnson then released a statement saying it is no longer introducing new products with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and that it 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,” reads the statement on Johnson & Johnson’s Web site.

Johnson & Johnson’s questionable baby shampoo still is on the shelves and, unfortunately, it is far from the only questionable personal care product.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC. 

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