Johnson & Johnson’s popular “No More Tears” baby shampoo can now claim yet another “no more” to its title: formaldehyde. The company told the New York Times that as of this month, it’s created a entirely new formula for its signature shampoo, sold under the label “improved formula,” that eliminates the chemical commonly associated with preserving dead bodies. Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring chemical in many fruits, but the US government classifies it as a cancer-causing agent in high doses.
Johnson & Johnson maintains that the amount that could previously be found in one bottle of baby shampoo was 15 times less than the amount a person would be exposed to when eating one apple. And to be clear, the company was never deliberately adding formaldehyde to its older formula. But it was using another preservative in the shampoo called quaternium-15, which would eventually release formaldehyde as it aged. Johnson & Johnson is also reducing the amount of another chemical of concern found in older bottles of the shampoo, 1,4-dioxane, to “trace amounts.” And it’s taking both chemicals out of another 100 products as well.
By 2015, it plans to have removed the chemicals from its entire product line, which includes the popular adult brands Neutrogena and Clean & Clear. And while Johnson & Johnson’s move to reformulate its shampoo and other products at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars” has won applause from some concerned parents, it isn’t just a benevolent gesture by the company. Rather, it came about after pressure from activists seeking safer cosmetic products, and on the heels of a new California law forcing bath and cosmetics companies to identify 164 different chemicals deemed potentially harmful to human health. One Johnson & Johnson executive told the Times that back in 1999, the company polled consumers of one of its brands and found they didn’t care about the ingredients. “They’re telling us the opposite now,” the executive, Cathy Salerno, said.
Whether other smaller brands follow suit remains to be seen. One advocacy group that’s been leading the charge for change, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, found the same two chemicals Johnson & Johnson is now removing in “dozens” of other bath products.