Moms who buy special shampoo for their babies probably assume that they aren't rubbing carcinogens into their precious child's head during every bath. If they live in the U.S., there's a good chance they're wrong. Health and environmental groups have been pressuring Johnson & Johnson to remove two potentially cancer-causing chemicals from its popular baby shampoo, and for some unfathomable reason, they're dragging their feet.
The company is definitely well aware of the problem. According to the Associated Press, since 2009 The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has met with Johnson & Johnson representatives three times about making its baby products safer by removing two chemicals. Dioxane, which is considered a likely carcinogen, is found in Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Oatmeal Baby Wash, Moisture Care Baby Wash and Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Creamy Wash. The shampoo also contains quaternium-15, which releases formaldehyde. Over the summer, the U.S. government officially added formaldehyde, which is used as a disinfectant and embalming fluid, to its list of known carcinogens. It's also a skin, eye and respiratory irritant.
Yesterday, the campaign sent Johnson & Johnson a letter signed by 25 environmental and medical groups, including the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, American Nurses Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Green America. It's demanding that the company commit to removing the chemicals from all of its products by November 15, and calling for a boycott until it does so.
Johnson & Johnson responded by saying that while formaldehyde is considered a carcinogen, regulators have found that formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are safe. However, it's working on reformulating its baby products and gradually phasing the chemicals. That may sound like a reasonable response, but but the company doesn't need time to create new formula, because it's already selling a carcinogen-free version of its baby shampoo in various other countries. Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in the U.S., Canada, China, Indonesia and Australia still contains quaternium-15, but according to the product labels, it isn't in versions of the products sold in eight other countries: Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the U.K. And it's not like the company removed an essential ingredient to meet environmental restrictions in these countries. While some have banned the use of quaternium-15, it's unclear why some of these countries are being treated to the carcinogen-free shampoo.
In the U.S. moms can buy a Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo that doesn't contain these chemicals: Johnson's Naturals. However, that product costs about twice as much as the regular baby shampoo. There are only small amounts of the carcinogens in Johnson & Johnson personal care products, but Tracey J. Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at University of California-San Francisco, says, "Even though the chemicals may be low-level, why risk it?" The long list of harmful chemicals found in everyday items intended for adults is pretty alarming, and we're talking about little people whose skulls haven't completely fused together yet. Wodruff points out that infants using the shampoo are being exposed to these chemicals at "a very vulnerable period of development." For years Johnson & Johnson has promoted the product by saying it has a "no more tears" formula, but we'd happily take a bit of crying if it meant not exposing babies to carcinogens during every bath.
Image via Marcel Jancovic/Shutterstock.