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Johnson & Johnson to Remove Harmful Chemicals from Personal Care Products


Johnson & Johnson announced that it will phase out many harmful chemicals - another shining example of individuals’ voices being heard.

Last year we reported on the disturbing news that the personal care products giant Johnson & Johnson uses an ingredient that releases formaldehyde in its baby shampoo. Environmental and health groups such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics urged parents to boycott its products until it stopped using that ingredient.

Now, Johnson & Johnson has announced that it will be eliminating the use of many harmful chemicals in its personal care products. Johnson & Johnson doesn’t just own its own brand; it’s also the makers of Aveeno, Neutrogena, and Clean & Clear, among others, meaning that they’ll all follow suit.

The chemicals that will be phased out are thought to cause cancer, birth defects, and even diabetes. And the infamous formaldehyde-releasing ingredient in baby shampoo? That’s on the chopping block too.

Individuals have a voice
What does this story teach us? It teaches us that companies may be quicker to react than governments; however, groups such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintain that government regulation is still vital and desperately needed.

But it’s also another shining example of how when there is a strong pushback, companies will change. Sure, the pushback was from environmental and health groups, but it was also the voices of individuals coming together that made a difference.

For example, the Johnson & Johnson website explicitly states that it has taken into consideration the concerns of consumers (rather than only complying with government regulations): “We understand that from your perspective, government regulations may not be your only consideration when it comes to the personal care products you and your family use. … In response to public concerns, we are in the process of restricting the use of certain parabens.” Source: Johnson & Johnson, Our Safety and Care Commitment: Parabens

The EWG (known by consumers for its much-loved Skin Deep database) agrees that Johnson & Johnson “is a company that listens to its customers.”

Keep fighting!
But the fight is far from over, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reminds us, as many companies still use the chemicals targeted by Johnson & Johnson in personal care products. Sign the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ online petition to ask them to follow in Johnson & Johnson’s footsteps and remove them. The companies they’re reaching out to (and the brands they own) include:

  • L’Oreal (Maybelline, Garnier, Kiehl’s, the Body Shop, Softsheen-Carson)
  • Procter & Gamble (CoverGirl, Pantene, Secret, Old Spice)
  • Estee Lauder (Clinique, MAC, Prescriptives)
  • Avon
  • Unilever (Dove, Ponds, St. Ives, Axe)

It’s also important to note that Johnson & Johnson’s products will still not be completely chemical-free; for instance, they will still contain certain parabens. Plus, the changes aren’t expected until 2015. Nevertheless, it’s a massive step in the right direction, and one worthy of praise.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD