Johnson & Johnson made the landmark announcement this week that it would ban harmful chemicals from their products. The company has already made the pledge to remove toxic chemicals from its baby products by 2013. This new effort extends to its adult brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Clean & Clear. By the end of 2015, the company will be the first major company to remove harmful chemicals from its line of consumer products.
The company has been pressured for years by environmental and health groups to take this action. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in particular noted the announcement about eliminating toxics in baby products as a triumph for their campaign. In the recent years, there has been an increased consumer awareness about the number of chemicals that people are exposed to via their personal care products, toiletries and cosmetics. Women, young children, and babies are especially vulnerable. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic or hormone disruptors.
The New York Times reported that, “last year formaldehyde was identified as a potential carcinogen and is released over time by common preservatives like quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin, which do appear on labels. And 1,4 dioxane, which has been linked to cancer in animal studies, is created during a process commonly used to make other ingredients gentler on the skin.”
This means that 1,4 dioxane is used especially in baby products and products aimed for ‘sensitive’ skin. The company also plans to phase out chemicals like phthalates, several fragrance ingredients, and the commonly used antibacterial agent triclosan. The company also wants to remove all parabens from its baby products and some parabens from its adult products – this chemical is commonly used as a preservative.
Susan Nettesheim, vice president for product stewardship and toxicology for the company’s consumer health brands has said that this project of eliminating toxics is a major undertaking and it would require more research to find suitable, sustainable alternatives to these chemicals. She also said that new suppliers needed to be located and vetted to meet the criteria.
Some of their most popular and trusted products, like their baby shampoo, might even have to be reformulated. This poses a public relations risk for the company because there is always the worry that consumers may not like their new formulation. There is also the added pressure of convincing their consumers that this time around, their product is well and truly safe. Many companies have successfully removed or largely reduced harmful chemicals in their products. P&G reformulated their Herbal Essence range in 2010 to only include 1,4 dioxane in trace amounts.
For Johnson & Johnson, the next couple of years will play a determining factor in the long-term success of their products.