The company claims your exposure to formaldehyde (an organic compound, and known carcinogen, widely used in medicine, industry, and research) in an apple is 15-times greater than it is in a bottle of their shampoo. And yet, the company is making moves to remove it from its iconic product.
The shampoo has the same amber hue, the same sudsy lather and — perhaps most important — the same familiar smell that, for generations of Americans, still conjures memories of childhood bath time.
What's different about the shampoo, and 100 other baby products sold by Johnson & Johnson, isn't so much about what's been added; it's what's missing. The products no longer contain two potentially harmful chemicals, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, that have come under increasing scrutiny by consumers and environmental groups.
In response to consumer pressure two years ago, the company pledged to remove both chemicals from its baby products by the end of 2013, and this month, it said that it had met that goal. The reformulated products are making their way to store shelves around the world and will replace existing products over the next several months.
The company has been forced to respond to what Cathy Salerno, VP of research and development for J&J's consumer products division in North America, describes as a 180° shift in consumer interest over what goes into health and beauty products:
When Johnson & Johnson acquired Aveeno, the natural skin care company, in 1999, it polled customers about their interest in the brand's ingredients. The answer demonstrated little consumer concern about the details — customers wanted the company to keep it simple. "They're telling us the opposite now," she said.
Responding to consumer input has put the company in a difficult position. Consider, for example, that formaldehyde is not technically an ingredient in their shampoo, but a byproduct of other ingredients found in many of their – and other company's – products. Removing it from the shampoo is therefore not as easy as... well... removing it from the shampoo. Rather, it necessitates a complete reformulation of the product.
That formaldehyde is also present at such low concentrations, the company claims a person's exposure to the chemical in an apple is 15-times greater than it is in a single bottle of shampoo. 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a process used to make other ingredients in the "No Tears" shampoo mild, is present at similarly negligible levels, according to the company.
Assuming you trust J&J's analysis of their products (and it is obviously reasonable not to – conflict of interest, and all that), and even if you don't, the company's course of action is a bit disquieting. Consumer awareness is of course a good thing, and responding to consumer input, Salerno says, "lands right at the heart and soul of what Johnson & Johnson is about"; but insisting that the chemicals in a product are safe and making moves to remove those chemicals in the same motion sends a mixed message that muddles the line dividing chemophobia (i.e. the irrational fear of chemicals) from legitimate concern.
Read more at The New York Times.