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 specifically). 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:
-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 liver.
Why Is Johnson & Johnson Dragging Their Feet on Removal of Toxic Ingredients for U.S. Lots?
On October 31, The Campaign for Safe Cosmeticsi 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:ii
“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 consider safe.
…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:
1. They’re already selling a carcinogen-free version of its baby shampoo in other countries, so obviously no complicated reformulation would be necessary
2. The Johnson & 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:
“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:
To avoid 1,4-dioxane, watch out for these ingredients, which create 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct:
-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 includes 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.