11/25/2011 03:13 EST | Updated 01/25/2012 05:12 EST

WHAT Was in My Baby Shampoo?!

The baby shampoo formula used by Johnson


The fight to remove toxins from personal care products saw a major victory recently. For two and a half years, with the support of 25 environmental groups including ours, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics campaigned to have Johnson & Johnson remove formaldehyde-releasing ingredients from their baby shampoo. In response to the campaign, on Nov. 1 Johnson & Johnson announced they are phasing out the use of these chemicals.

It is upsetting to think that the iconic product, meant for sensitive young scalps, contains formaldehyde. The chemical is released by the ingredients 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen, and quaternium-15. Quaternium-15 is a preservative common to many personal care products, yet it is a sensitizer that can cause contact dermatitis. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

The success of the campaign to remove these ingredients offers a powerful lesson on standards.

The baby shampoo formula used by Johnson & Johnson for bottles sold in Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Japan, Norway and South Africa was already free of these toxic ingredients. But while consumers in these countries were offered the safer version of the product, Johnson & Johnson continued to sell baby shampoo with formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in Canada, the United States, Australia, China and Indonesia. Consumers in every country deserve protection from toxic chemicals.

Johnson & Johnson's commitment to phase out formaldehyde-releasing ingredients across the board undoes the international double standard. It also resolves a troubling development within the countries where the toxin-laden version was sold.

Over the course of the campaign, a funny thing happened. Johnson & Johnson listened to the arguments posed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and its supporters, and realized there was a market for a formaldehyde-free version of the shampoo. So they responded by bringing to market a formaldehyde-free version of their baby shampoo, which was more expensive.

The goal of campaigns like this is not to have two classes of cosmetics -- expensive, safe ones, and affordable, toxic ones. The goal is to get the toxins out of personal care products, period.

We're glad that Johnson & Johnson is doing the right thing, and offering a safer version of their product to all consumers. The lesson of this victory is twofold: consumers have the power to demand safer products and win; but the campaigning can't stop when a better product is offered only to those who can afford it. Success should be measured by equality of access to non-toxic products. The campaign to have Johnson & Johnson remove formaldehyde-releasing ingredients from their baby shampoo is a victory because it extends to the low-cost version of their product that many families use for their youngest, most vulnerable members. Join the fight, by telling the Canadian cosmetics industry it's time for a makeover by signing our petition here.