How Johnson & Johnson is cutting out toxics

How Johnson & Johnson is cutting out toxics

Would you use skin lotion that contains a known carcinogen, or wash your child's hair with a shampoo that has  formaldehyde?

Bowing to public pressure to provide safer formulations of everyday products such as these, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) this week is pledging to remove potentially harmful and carcinogenic chemicals from its lotions and adult toiletries by 2015.

That includes brands like Aveena, Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, and Lubriderm.

The move follows J&J's decision late last year to remove "chemicals of concern" from its iconic Johnson's Baby Shampoo and other baby-care lotions in the US by the end of 2013.

“We applaud Johnson & Johnson for its leadership in committing to remove cancer-causing chemicals from its products. We will be vigilant in making sure [J&J] meets its commitments and will continue to encourage it to remove other ingredients of concern," says Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, a co-founder of the campaign.

In particular, the company is eliminating a preservative called quaternium-15 that releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The inclusion of that substance in the US formulation of Johnson's Baby Shampoo drew the notice of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, especially since a formaldehyde-free version was being sold in other countries.

J&J's commitment also calls for it to:

  • Reduce 1,4 dioxane (another probable human carcinogen) to a maximum of 10 parts per million in adult products;
  • Limit parabens in adult products to methyl-, ethyl- and propyl-;
  • Complete phase-out of triclosan from all products;
  • Phase out Diethyl Phthalate (DEP) from all products (no other phthalates are currently used);
  • Phase out polycyclic musks, animal derived ingredients, tagates, rose crystal and diacetyl from fragrances.

J&J's pledge is being positioned as the most aggressive stance yet by a healthcare or beauty products company, and the company has launched a website where it will disclose its progress.

“We want people to have complete peace of mind when they use our products,” Susan Nettesheim, vice president of product stewardship and toxicology for J&J’s consumer health brands, told Associated Press.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is calling on other cosmetics giants including Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever to meet or beat J&J’s commitments.

Research has found that many Americans are continually exposed to trace amounts of carcinogens and toxic chemicals without even knowing about it. The Safe Cosmetics Act, first proposed in 2010 and last amended in spring 2012, would close holes in federal law that allow this to happen.

"Today's action by Johnson and Johnson is another example of a company responding to their customers and the public interest community," says Nneka Leiba, senior analyst with Environmental Working Group, a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Unfortunately, not every company will take similar steps to protect consumers from potentially toxic ingredients. That is why we need Congress and the cosmetics industry to support the Safe Cosmetics Act that will require substances be safe for human health before being used in the products we all use every day."

For more on what's hiding beneath the surface of health and beauty products: www.safecosmetics.org.

This article was first published in Sustainable Business. It is reprinted here with permission.

Photo of child washing hair courtesy of AlexAnnaButs via Shutterstock.