Bowing to environmental activists, heathcare and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that it is working on a less-toxic reformulation of one of its most iconic products, Johnson's Baby Shampoo.
Its statement came in the form of a letter directed to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has been waging an publicity campaign focused on the ingredients in some of the company's baby products. The campaign has been talking up the presence of a preservative called quaternium-15, which releases formaldehyde, in Johnson's Baby Shampoo and other products in the baby line.
That's problematic because formaldehyde was recently added to the U.S. government's list of known carcinogens, as compiled by the National Toxicology Program. The other issue that had campaign's attention: Johnson & Johnson was already selling a formaldehyde-free version of the flagship product in other countries, why not in the United States?
Said Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:
"Clearly, there is no need for Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to a known carcinogen when the company is already making safer alternatives. All babies deserve safer products."
In its Nov. 16 letter to the campaign, Johnson & Johnson's vice president for product stewardship and toxicology, Susan Nettesheim, said while the company disagrees with some of the "science and conclusions" that the campaign is using to bring attention to this issue, it is phasing out the use of the formaldehydes in question. In addition, it will no longer introduce new baby products that contain the substances, according to the letter.
Johnson & Johnson is doing this despite Nettesheim's contention that formaldehyde exposure levels were already extremely conservative. She notes in the letter:
"For example, the level of exposure to formaldehyde, released in tiny amounts by certain preservatives to keep the products safe from contamination by bacteria, is about the same in an entire bottle of baby shampoo as a person would be exposed to by eating an apple or pear, in which it occurs naturally."
Hmmmmm. Kind of gives a whole new perspective to that "an apple a day" adage, doesn't it?
Nettesheim also points out that the company is monitoring its manufacturing processes to safeguard against trace amounts of a substance called 1,4 dioxane. Johnson & Johnson also is ramping up its production of what it calls "natural" products, which contain neither of these substances.
My guess is that you will see lots more exchanges of this sort, as behemoth consumer products companies take a closer look at what's actually inside their iconic brands. That will be especially true of companies that release some sort of "natural" alternative, especially one that is higher priced that the "non-natural" cousin.