Johnson & Johnson ingredients are going to be a lot cleaner in the coming years after the company took a major step this week, announcing its plan to remove toxic chemicals from baby products by the end of 2013. Adult toiletries will be less toxic by 2015, too, the company told the Associated Press. "We want people to have complete peace of mind when they use our products," said Susan Nettesheim, vice president of product stewardship and toxicology for J&J’s consumer health brands.
This is an unprecedented move for a company of this size: Johnson & Johnson's new plan will affect products under the Desitin, Aveeno, Neutrogena, RoC, Clean & Clear, and Lubriderm brand names. The New Jersey–based company says it will remove chemicals of concern, including carcinogenic formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane, compounds released by bacteria-killing chemicals in the formula. Johnson & Johnson said it will also phase out the antimicrobial and thyroid-damaging chemical triclosan, estrogenic paraben preservatives, and hormone-disrupting plasticizing chemicals known as phthalates, which are commonly found in synthetic fragrances.
"This is a monumental achievement for environmental health advocates and for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics," says Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. "The fact that market leader Johnson & Johnson is making a public commitment to remove carcinogens is a huge shift, and now all companies are going to have to follow suit and get rid of carcinogens too.
"Cancer-causing chemicals have no place in products we put on our bodies," she adds. "I commend Johnson and Johnson for taking this step."
Beginning in 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a robust organization of human and environmental health groups, began pressuring the company to remove the most toxic ingredients from its shampoos, lotions, and soaps. Johnson and Johnson's promise to start removing these chemicals beginning in 2013 is unprecedented for a company of its size. J&J says it will make these changes in the most transparent way possible and will launch safetyandcarecommitment.com to keep consumers informed.
Here are simple ways to clean up your bath and beauty routine:
Do your homework. Visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to check the nonprofit's safety rating of your personal care products—and to find safer brands.
"Buy from companies you trust," urges Malkan, who tries to buy from independently-owned companies whose products consistently score well in Skin Deep. "Don't just look at the label but also ask, 'What does this company stand for?'"
Phase out fragrance. Avoid products that list "parfum" or "fragrance" on the ingredients label. They likely contain phthalates, which have been linked to infertility, hormonal diseases, and low IQs.
Be anti antibacterial. Avoid soaps, toothpastes, and other products that list triclosan on the ingredient label. This hormone-disrupting chemical can damage your thyroid and is also blamed for the rise in antibiotic-resistant, hard-to-kill superbug germs. Washing with regular soap and water is just as effective, without the harmful side effects.