By LINDA A. JOHNSON, Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Johnson & Johnson plans to remove trace amounts of potentially cancer-causing and other dangerous chemicals from nearly all its adult toiletries and cosmetic products worldwide within 3 1/2 years.
The health care giant late last year pledged to remove "chemicals of concern" from its baby products sold around the world. That change came after a large coalition of health and environmental groups began pressing J&J more than three years ago to make its personal care products safer.
The company told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday that it remains on track to have baby products, including its Johnson's No More Tears baby shampoo, reformulated with safer ingredients by the end of 2013. Adult products will be reformulated by the end of 2015.
"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.
Those include Johnson's baby lotion and bath products and Desitin for diaper rash, as well as adult skin care brands including Aveeno, Neutrogena, RoC, Clean & Clear and Lubriderm. J&J, based in New Brunswick, N.J., also makes prescription drugs and medical devices.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing J&J in May 2009 to remove harsh and toxic chemicals from its brands to protect consumers and workers. The coalition includes more than 175 nonprofit groups representing about 1.7 million members, from the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth to the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"This is a good step in the right direction," said Lisa Archer, the campaign's national director. "In terms of the cosmetic giants, Johnson & Johnson is going the furthest of any of them in removing chemicals of concern."
Johnson & Johnson launched a website Wednesday, www.safetyandcarecommitment.com , telling consumers what it does to ensure its ingredients are safe and of high quality. That includes detailed questioning of manufacturers and suppliers covering everything from the composition of ingredients and any trace chemicals in them to their environmental health and safety practices.
"We've heard from consumers that they want to understand more about our plans" for improving products, Nettesheim said. "They want more transparency."
Research by the Environmental Working Group found most cosmetic and personal care products — other than those from small companies in the fast-growing natural products niche — contain potentially dangerous chemicals.
The key ones in question are 1,4 dioxane and the preservative formaldehyde, which is slowly released by a chemical called quaternium-15 to kill bacteria. Both 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde are probable human carcinogens; formaldehyde also is a skin, eye and respiratory irritant.
By 2015 Johnson & Johnson will phase out those two chemicals and others of concern, including triclosan, phthalates and parabens, as well as fragrance ingredients, which aren't disclosed on product labels. However, it will allow chemicals that release formaldehyde when no safe alternative will work and is reducing levels of 1,4 dioxane to below 10 parts per million.
"Many of our products will be ahead of this timing," Nettesheim said, noting its products already met or exceeded regulatory limits.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't heavily regulate cosmetic products.
Nettesheim said the effort is taking several years for a few reasons. The company has many different formulas for products sold in different countries around the world — including some safer formulas in products long sold outside the U.S. Each ingredient replacing an objectionable one must go through quality testing and be evaluated by volunteer consumers. And many must be registered with government agencies.
J&J said that since 2010, it's reduced the number of products containing chemicals that release formaldehyde by 33 percent and the products that contain 1,4 dioxane by 74 percent. In 2005 it launched the Johnson's Soothing Naturals line, products with no 1,4 dioxane and or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals. That evolved into Johnson's Natural baby products.