Johnson & Johnson has had to, in just 15 days, capitulate to the activist association, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
In March 2009, the CSC published a report, "No More Toxic Tub", denouncing (among hundreds of other products in the market) the use of two potential carcinogens (quaternium-15 and 1,4-dioxane) by J&J in its baby shampoo. Quaternium-15 is a preservative that releases formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane is a by-product of a chemical reaction used to render products more gentle on the skin. Despite letters and successive meetings with the brand, no answer was forthcoming.
Last October, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics - which allied with the American Nurses Association and doctors' associations for the circumstance - released a new report entirely dedicated to J&J - "Baby's Tub is Still Toxic". The contents of the report sheds new light on J&J's practices: among 13 Baby Shampoo products bought in 13 different countries, it was found that Quaternium-15 is only used in five countries (USA / Canada / Australia / China / Indonesia) - while it is replaced by other preservatives in eight other countries (Japan / Netherlands / South Africa / Sweden / UK / Denmark / Norway / Finland). J&J follows the same procedure for its Johnson's Natural range marketed in the United States. The report therefore rightly stresses J&J's "double standards" policy that persists in using a potentially dangerous ingredient in countries where they are not explicitly prohibited by regulations. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics therefore asked J&J to bring all its formulations into line with those used in Europe.
On November 16, Johnson & Johnson announced (refuting the risk in question) that after removing all phthalates, they would, within two years, stop using Quaternium-15 and all the ingredients that release formaldehyde, and work towards eliminating 1,4-dioxane.
This story is fascinating because of what it reveals:
- An activist group can, in the space of two years (or 15 days if we refer to these recent developments), with the help of other associations and in-depth research work, get a brand to reformulate its products.
- Brands use different formulas for different countries: today, campaigns conducted by activist groups that call this practice into question, will necessarily have an international impact and highlight these "double standards".
- Without saying so explicitly, European norms (or even individual countries - formaldehyde is banned in Japan and Sweden) override American "liberty": beauty and hygiene brands will have to systematically reformulate on a global scale by adhering to the strictest standards.
- Indeed, what could justify the coexistence of two brands like J&J and Johnson's Natural (the only thing natural is the name) on the same shelves in future? Especially since the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics association is now denouncing the "greenwashing" of some so-called 'natural' brands...