Johnson & Johnson has been the go-to brand for families the world over for personal care products such as baby shampoo, acne cream and baby powder. It’s tagline of ‘No More Tears’ led families to place their trust in the company as being a safe product. However, environmental and consumer groups have been lobbying the company, and its competitors, for years to remove potentially harmful hidden chemicals from their products.
In 2012, the company pledged that they would eliminate formaldehyde, parabens, triclosan and phthalates from all baby products. They also vowed to remove triclosan and phthalates from its adult products by 2013. However, at present they will keep using three parabens, and use formaldehyde in exceptional cases where other preservatives wouldn’t work, according to the company’s new policy. They have since announced that they are aiming to remove a number of these by the end of 2015. The adult products encompass well-known brands such as Neutrogena, Aveeno and Clean & Clear.
This was a landmark statement from the company and marked them as the first major consumer products company to make such a widespread commitment. And it appears that they have stuck to their promise. In February of this year, executives at Johnson & Johnson were presented with a scroll containing 30,000 signatures from happy customers, thanking them for the removal of these potentially harmful chemicals.
At the time of the pledge, Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, praised the company saying, “we’ve never really seen a major personal care product company take the kind of move that they’re taking with this. Not really even anything in the ballpark.”
In response, Susan Nettesheim, vice president for product stewardship and toxicology for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer health brands stated, “there’s a very lively public discussion going on about the safety of ingredients in personal care products. It was really important that we had a voice in that.”
Cosmetic and personal care products have been increasingly scrutinised in recent years, especially following the discovery that several government watch list chemicals have been added to products in the form of preservatives, fragrances or stabilisers. This means that consumers won’t find these chemicals listed on the back of products as they’re not technically an ingredient. Studies have shown that these can cause “tumors, cellular changes or disruption of healthy development and reproduction” leading a number of US states to restrict them, particularly in products for children.
Speaking in an interview at the beginning of May 2013, Samantha Lucas, a corporate spokeswoman, said: “We’ve found agreeable alternatives. We’re committed to absolute transparency about what’s in the product and what’s on the label. We’re very involved in the complete supply chain, including holding our suppliers and our raw materials providers to our high standards”.
Janet Nudelman, cofounder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, praised Johnson & Johnson for its actions saying that “many of the big multinationals have equated safety with preventing acute reactions such as eye irritation or rash. They weren’t thinking about the long-term consequences of reproductive or developmental harm or even cancer.” However, it is good to see that companies are now recognising this and looking at ways to avoid chemicals of concern.