After two and a half years of steady pressure from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the American Nurses Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to phase out its use of a formaldehyde-releasing preservative, listed as quaternium-15, in its baby products. (You can read the company’s statement here.)
Formaldehyde is classifed at high levels of exposure by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a known human carcinogen. J&J had been selling formaldehyde-free baby shampoo in other nations but had, to date, resisted CSC pressure (in the form of a massive letter-writing campaign and a series of sit-down powwows with J&J honchos) to change its formulations in the U.S., where the FDA permits its use.
Formaldehyde levels in Johnson & Johnson’s shampoo were relatively low, but remember that babies and children are, pound for pound, exposed to many more chemicals than we larger folk, and they’re exposed to them at a vulnerable time in their development. Children also tend to put stuff in their mouths and crawl around on floors and rugs, where they’re exposed to both the residue of cleaning products and dust, where contaminants like flame retardants abide. And so their body burden grows.
Retooling formulas and getting them into production will be costly for J&J, but a consumer boycott may have been worse -- both for the company’s finances and its reputation, especially once the mommy bloggers (who effectively removed BPA from baby bottles in the absence of federal leadership) fully sunk their teeth into this. Of course, if the feds banned the use of formaldehyde in such products altogether -- taking a systemic rather than a piecemeal approach to this problem (the aim of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011) -- the playing field for all U.S. shampoo makers would be leveled; this two-and-a-half-year exercise could have been avoided; and people who buy baby shampoo wouldn’t be left squinting at tiny labels in the health and beauty aisle of their supermarkets.
Congratulations, and thank you, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, et alia! (Now, let's hope that Johnson & Johnson is clear about the properties of the preservative that will take quaternium-15's place.)
Photo by Kyle Flood via Wikimedia Commons