Here at Truth in Aging, we try to take the health risks purported by the Environmental Working Group's cosmetic safety database with a grain of salt. Though well-meaning, the website's safety profiles for most products and ingredients teeter on paranoid. You'd have to be a mad DIY chemist locked in a hermetically sealed bubble of sanitation to concoct an all-organic potion that, maybe, just might get the green light from the EWG's stringent guidelines. Nonetheless, it is an excellent resource for scouting out very safe or very hazardous products.

You can imagine my surprise when I came across a long list of Johnson & Johnson's baby lotions that showed a safety rating of 8. Keep in mind that 0-2 represents a low hazard, 3-6 indicates a moderate hazard, and 7-10 signals a warning sign that should be slapped on the product's consumer packaging. How could a company in the baby business be selling a whole bathtub of products that are highly unsafe? And how could a trusted brand name that has been around for decades get away with it? I had to investigate...

It is well-known that companies in the cosmetics business change formulas all the time. Sometimes, they'll replace ingredients with cheaper alternatives or updated substitutes that have not been around long enough to determine long-term effects. When an ingredient with unknown side effects is included in your favorite lotion, who knows what sort of health issues may arise from a causal link years down the road. For the purposes of my investigation of Johnson & Johnson, I focused on the formula of J&J Baby Baby Lotion with Aloe Vera & Vitamin E.

Dimethicone (risk rating of 3), though not great, isn't enough to warrant a red flag. One concern with dimethicone, a silicone-derived emollient, is that its occlusive nature (meaning that it coats the skin with an impenetrable layer) can cause irritation when sweat gets trapped underneath. Not only are synthetic silicones non-biodegradable, but they also may accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes, where they may foster the growth of tumors. You've probably heard of the debilitating symptoms suffered by thousands of women who have had silicone-based breast implants.

A safety score of 8 goes to Fragrance, which appears relatively high on the lotion's list. Because phthalates are often used in fragrances, they can creep their way into products without appearing on the label. According to Greenpeace, phthalates are suspected to do damage to the liver and kidneys, to interfere with the development of the reproductive organs, and to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. There is a strong correlation between phthalate exposure and early onset of puberty in girls.

Besides fragrance, which can provoke unwarranted irritation, Johnson & Johnson's formula seems to go slightly haywire in the preservatives section. Benzyl alcohol achieves a danger score of 7, surprisingly high considering that it is a less problematic preservative than most others. Because babies have extremely sensitive skin, there should be a concentration of benzyl alcohol no higher than 1%. Nonetheless, the FDA has approved benzyl alcohol lotion at a concentration of 5% as a treatment for head lice in children.

The most blameworthy culprit would appear to be a trifecta of parabens, in particular methylparaben, which has a safety score of 8. Between allergic reactions and disruption to the endochrine system, parabens are implicated in constant scaremongering. Whether substantiated or not, these potentially toxic preservatives should not go anywhere near a cosmetic baby product.

As if the ingredients label isn't frightening enough on its own, Johnson & Johnson's baby products have recently been found to contain trace amounts of chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as probable carcinogens. In a March article in the Washington Post it was revealed that Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo tested positive for 1,4-dioxane (which has been banned by the EU) and formaldehyde, as reported by the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. These elements are byproducts of the manufacturing process and do not appear on the ingredients label.

I'd wager that Johnson & Johnson's baby lotions are no purer than its shampoo. As reported in Cosmetics Design, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and 40 other charitable organizations have sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson urging the company to remove formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane from its products. If Johnson & Johnson has managed to eliminate potentially hazardous ingredients from its cosmetics in Japan (where formaldehyde is banned), why wouldn't a similar reformulation process be possible everywhere else?

Unless cosmetics are screened and regulated across the board, how can we as consumers know what trace chemicals are polluting the products we use everyday? If there are bits and pieces of carcinogens sprinkled in many of our products, we are unknowingly enduring repeated exposure that can lead to long-term health concerns. But babies and children, at least, should be spared this exposure to chemicals, as their still-developing bodies are particularly vulnerable. Manufacturers of contaminated cosmetics targeted at children should be held accountable for misleading parents and putting innocent lives at risk.

See also:

Johnson and Johnson's Reformulated Formula

Ingredients in Johnson & Johnson Baby Baby Lotion:
Water, Propylene Glycol, Myristyl Myristate, Glyceryl Stearate, Stearic Acid, Oleic Acid, Polysorbate 61, Dimethicone, Isopropyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Synthetic Bees Wax, Carbomer, Benzyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Aloe Vera Extract, Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E Acetate)