If you buy special shampoo for your baby, the last thing you'd expect it to contain would be known or suspected carcinogens...
But if you live in the U.S., this may in fact be the case.
For the past two years, health and environmental groups have been
urging Johnson & Johnson to remove two potentially cancer-causing
chemicals from its baby shampoo.
One of these ingredients is quaternium-15, which releases
formaldehyde; a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, and a known
carcinogen (formaldehyde exposure has been associated with leukemia
According to SafeCosmetics.org:
"The North American Contact Dermatitis Group considers
quaternium-15 to be among the most clinically significant contact
allergens in children."
The other, 1,4-dioxane, is a "likely carcinogen," and is present in Johnson & Johnson's:
- Baby Shampoo
- Oatmeal Baby Wash
- Moisture Care Baby Wash, and
- Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Creamy Wash
According to the CDC, 1,4 dioxane is "probably carcinogenic to
humans," and is toxic to your brain, central nervous system, kidneys and
Why is Johnson & Johnson Dragging Their Feet on Removal of Toxic Ingredients for U.S. Lots?
On October 31, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
sent Johnson & Johnson a letter signed by 25 environmental and
medical groups, demanding they "commit to removing the chemicals from
all of its products by November 15." The Campaign also urges everyone to
boycott Johnson & Johnson until it complies.
Johnson & Johnson recently responded, stating that:
"We have been phasing out the use of preservatives that release
tiny amounts of formaldehyde to guard against bacterial contamination.
These preservative technologies, which are used widely in our industry
are all safe and approved in the countries where they are sold… Over
the past couple of years, we already have reduced the number of
formulations globally with these "formaldehyde releaser" preservatives
by 33% and in the U.S. by over 60%.
We are completing this reformulation as quickly as we can safely and responsibly do so.
As part of the manufacturing process, we have extensive
monitoring to ensure that the amount of a trace byproduct known as "1,4
dioxane" in any of our products is well below the level that the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration and regulatory agencies around the world
… We have introduced new product formulations for consumers who prefer natural products, such as JOHNSON'S® NATURAL®, a line that is 98% natural, and contains no formaldehyde releasing preservatives or traces of 1,4 dioxane."
However, reasonable as this may sound, there are two rather obvious "problems" with their reply:
- They’re already selling a carcinogen-free version of
its baby shampoo in other countries, so obviously no complicated
reformulation would be necessary, and
- The Johnson’s “Naturals” brand does not contain either of these chemicals, but, it costs about twice as much as their regular baby shampoo. That makes TWO carcinogen-free formulas at their disposal, which makes the line “We are completing this reformulation as quickly as we can safely and responsibly do so,” seem like a rather strange excuse
The countries already receiving quaternium-15-free Johnson & Johnson products include:
As stated by Jezebel:
"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."
What to Look for to Avoid Formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane
If you want to avoid formaldehyde-releasing ingredients and
1,4-dioxane, you need to know what to look for as they're NOT listed on
the label; at least not in those words.
Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
To avoid 1,4-dioxane, watch out for these ingredients, which create 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct:
- PEG-100 stearate
- Sodium laureth sulfate
- Sodium myreth sulfate
Other Hazardous Ingredients to Watch Out for
It's unfortunate, but personal care products, including those
specifically designed for babies, can contain a number of hazardous
ingredients. Other common culprits to avoid include:
- Any chemical that include the clauses “xynol,” “ceteareth” and “oleth”
- Diethanolamine or DEA, a potentially cancer-causing agent. DEA
also readily reacts with nitrite preservatives and contaminants to
create nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), a known and potent carcinogen. The
chemical also appears to block absorption of the nutrient choline, which
is vital to brain development.
- Propylene Glycol. Despite the fact the material
safety data sheet warns users to avoid skin contact with propylene
glycol as it is a strong skin irritant and can also cause liver
abnormalities and kidney damage, it's a common ingredient in shampoos.
- Parabens. These preservatives may
be listed on the label as methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, propyl
paraben, butyl paraben, isobutyl paraben or E216. They have shown
particularly troubling links to cancer.
Studies have shown that parabens can affect your body much like
estrogens, which can lead to diminished muscle mass, extra fat storage,
and male gynecomastia (breast growth). Other studies have also linked
parabens to breast cancer,
as researchers found traces of parabens in every sample of tissue taken
from 20 different breast tumors. The EPA has linked methyl parabens in
particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological
disorders, as well as various cancers.
Average Baby Exposed to Dozens of Potentially Unsafe Chemicals Daily
Four years ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) surveyed 3,300
parents and compared the baby products they used to lists of chemicals
known to cause allergies, hormone disruption, damage to the nervous
system, and cancer. Their review revealed that children are exposed to about 27 chemical ingredients on a daily basis that have never been assessed for safety. Not by the industry, nor by the government.
Examples of hazardous ingredients and baby products from that review include:
- 2 bromo, 2 nitropropane, and 3-DIOL:
Can cause allergies and skin irritations. In certain products these
ingredients can also break down to form other cancer causing agents
- Sodium borate, found in Desitin diaper cream, can accumulate in your child’s brain and liver, causing detrimental health effects
- Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen, can trigger allergies, and may disrupt a child's delicate hormone system
Interestingly, 89 percent of products labeled "Recommended by doctor" were found to be some of the worst offenders, containing some of the most dangerous chemicals!
The 2007 EWG study also determined that:
- 82 percent of children are exposed every week to one or more
ingredients with the potential to harm the brain and nervous system.
- 69 percent of children are exposed every week to one or more ingredients that may disrupt the hormone system.
- 3.6 percent of children are exposed to ingredients with
strong data linking them to cancer, including chemicals classified as
known or probable human carcinogens.
- 80 percent of children's products marked as gentle and
non-irritating contain ingredients linked to allergies and skin or eye
irritation according to government and industry sources.
Evaluate Ingredients Before You Buy
The issue of potential toxins lurking in shampoos, soaps, lotions and
other personal care products is a serious one, as your skin readily
absorbs these chemicals, allowing them directly into your blood stream.
When absorbed, they can actually do more harm than if you were to
I strongly recommend switching over to organic brands of toiletries,
including children's personal care products. You can usually find a
good variety at either your local health food store, or by searching
online. Keep in mind that not all products marked "natural" or "organic" are in fact wholly natural or organic, as "greenwashing" has become increasingly pervasive.
I highly recommend using the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep site
to evaluate each product before settling on a purchase. The EWG is a
nonprofit public-interest research group known for making connections
between chemical exposure and adverse health conditions. Since its
inception in 2004, their "Skin Deep" study has assigned health-risk
ratings to thousands of personal-care products.
General Shopping Guidelines
Some general guidelines to keep in mind when purchasing personal care products include:
- Look for the genuine USDA Organic Seal.
- If you can't pronounce it, you probably don't want to put it on your body. Ask yourself, "Would I eat this?"
- Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds—even thousands—of chemicals, and fragrances are a major cause of allergic reactions.
- Pay attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed.
Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order by
volume, meaning the first few ingredients are the most prominent. If
calendula extract is the last ingredient in a long list, your calendula
body wash isn't very natural.
- Stick to the basics. Do you really need 10 products to prepare
for your day? Simplify your life and rescue your bank account by
reducing the total number of products you use daily.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic, since chemicals can leach out of plastics and into the contents. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a serious concern; make sure any plastic container is BPA free.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are
earth-friendly, animal-friendly and committed to organic and sustainable
There is reason to be concerned about the numerous toxic chemicals
you expose your children to on a daily basis, as each and every exposure
adds to your child's total, long-term toxic load. For more information,
I highly recommend reading Dr. Doris Rapp's book, Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call.
Dr. Rapp does a thorough job of uncovering the many ways you're exposed
to toxic chemicals, and how they take a toll on your health,
contributing to the many chronic diseases you see today.
Call to Action
recommends taking decisive consumer action to end the unnecessary
inclusion of toxic ingredients in products designed for babies. Here's
what you can do:
- Vote with your pocketbook: Until Johnson &
Johnson commits to making safer baby products for all babies, purchase
products from companies making safer alternatives. Search EWG's Skin Deep cosmetic database to find safer products.
- Contact Johnson & Johnson: Sign the petition to Johnson & Johnson,
asking them to immediately remove formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
from all of its baby products sold in all countries and replace them
with safer alternatives.
- Write to Congress: Ask your U.S. Representative to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011.