Johnson & Johnson has just quietly reformulated its baby shampoo as a result of consumer pressure. It no longer contains formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane. In 2011, J&J promised to remove both chemicals from all of its baby care products by the end of 2013, as a result of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
While the company avers that these chemicals are not harmful (meaning that there is not enough information currently available to understand the long-term, cumulative effects of them), it nonetheless has acceded to demands to take the precautionary path. “Will a kid get cancer because there’s formaldehyde in their shampoo?” asked Ms. White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group (a Campaign member group). “We don’t know the answer to that. But why is there a carcinogen in their shampoo? When in doubt, take it out.”
J & J has also pledged to remove these chemicals (and others) from all of its consumer products by 2015.
The company publicly says that it is responding to a “fundamental shift” in consumer behavior, marked by an increasingly informed public that demands more responsiveness to concerns about potential health impacts of their products and their ingredients. (See related posts about similar consumer demands here and here.)
Johnson & Johnson is not alone. Procter & Gamble has promised to eliminate phthalates and triclosan by the end of 2014 after being targeted by the Campaign.
Retailers have also responded to consumer concerns about chemicals in their products. Walmart reports it will require suppliers to reduce or eliminate a list of 10 chemicals from cleaning and personal care products, while Target has chosen to monitor use of potentially harmful chemicals, then give its suppliers incentives to use safer chemicals.
Interestingly, in the J & J baby shampoo example, it would have been very hard for even savvy customers to know that formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane factored into the “No More Tears” formula because as non-per se ingredients, they aren’t listed on the label. Formaldehyde is released over time by preservatives, like quaternium-15 (which is listed on the label), and 1,4-dioxane (which has been linked to cancer in animal studies) is created when processing other ingredients to make them mild. Consequently, the environmental public health law tool of labeling would not have helped in this case.
Read more of the backstory on the fine line J & J is walking in reformulating this signature product, and the engineering feat it required.