Article by: Perry Romanowski

This article about the upcoming ban of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo has me concerned. We cosmetic chemists are being attacked and told by people who have no background in or understanding of toxicology or chemistry what chemicals we should be allowed to use. We have to stand up against this nonsense.

Safer baby shampoo

The notion that J&J can make a “safer” baby shampoo is just wrong. Removing Quaternium-15 and replacing it with some other preservative will do nothing to make the product safer. The fact that J&J makes a Quaternium-15 free version around the world is not surprising. Some countries around the world ban formaldehyde donors from their formulations. This ban is not the result of any scientific study but rather an arbitrary reaction by the government to public (non-scientifically based) desire. J&J is simply creating a formulation for the marketplace. Those formulas are likely to be more expensive and also contain some chemicals that these groups would find objectionable.

Reducing the level of 1,4 Dioxane is not going to make the product safer either. How would J&J prove the product is safer even if they had 0 detectable level of 1,4 Dioxane? They couldn’t do it because there is no test to demonstrate that their current levels are unsafe. Incidentally, J&J doesn’t actually add any 1,4, Dioxane to their shampoos. It is a by-product of the chemical reaction that produces their primary surfactant.


Why doesn’t J&J just reformulate? Simple.

1. Any reformulated product will cost more money that consumers don’t want to pay.
2. The reformulated product will not be safer.

The better question is, why would they reformulate?

This is the kind of story that is a problem all cosmetic formulators should be concerned about. Sure, if you’re not using formaldehyde donors or parabens or ethoxylated surfactants, you’re safe…for now. But what are you going to do when these groups turn their focus on something that you think is perfectly safe to use. Do you know that Sodium Hydroxide can burn away your skin down to the bone? What will you do when Sodium Hydroxide is chemical non grata?

If you accept non-science and fear to decide whether a chemical is safe, your formulation efforts are doomed to be controlled by the whims of irrationality. If there was scientific proof that these chemicals shouldn’t be used then I’d be in complete agreement that they should be removed. But there isn’t proof and J&J should not be compelled to do anything.


  1. Pingback:Why is strict cosmetic regulation good news for the Personal Care industry? « Beauty Business Today

  2. Liliana

    Hi guys,
    The fact is consumers are loosing trust in C&T products and this is happening world-wide. Maybe the cause it that the entry barrier of the C&T market is quasi inexistant: everyone can start making cosmetics in their garage. Maybe we need some clear standard for the safety of cosmetic ingredients. REACH in Europe is one miserable attempt to do this – it’s just bureaucracy. When looking over other industries, ex. automotive, they have solved similar problems by proposing an industry standard. The idea is that this has to come from the industry, not from the government.

    1. Perry

      When it comes to safety standards, every legitimate cosmetic business would agree that there should be some. The problem is that no one agrees on what they should be. Groups like the CFSC say parabens shouldn’t be used in cosmetics but an independent, scientific organizations say the collected evidence indicates they are perfectly safe. So, who should we follow?

      The CFSC doesn’t care about what science says. If they decide an ingredient is unsafe (e.g. formaldehyde donors, parabens, 1,4 dioxane) then there is zero acceptable level that can be used according to them.

      It’s impossible to set standards that would satisfy every group.

      1. Eliza

        Perry, I think what Liliana means is that the cosmetic scientists all over the world should make their own alliance and standard and market the hell out of it. Giving people real hope, truth and beauty, not lies and fear.
        I thought that in this initiative from USA is wonderful and should be promoted and applauded, by all beauty bloggers, writers and communities:

        I just wish we had something similar worldwide…

        1. Perry

          I agree. The safe cosmetics alliance is a great idea and they seem to be doing a good job of growing. But if consumer watchdog groups don’t agree with the safety standards, has any progress really been made?

          1. Eliza

            What do you mean by the consumer watchdog groups, Perry?

            I was thinking more in the lines of a shift in marketing toward science based cosmetics like in Japan. Driven by science based cosmetics formulators. A new trend as a reaction to the fear-mongering. If bloggers, twitters and beauty communities could get involved, that might work.

            That’s why I called it counter-campaign.

          2. Perry

            Groups like CFSC or the EWG. These are the groups that are trying to convince consumers that cosmetics are not safe and will fight any effort by the industry to create standards if they don’t agree with them.

          3. Eliza

            Are the unbeatable? Can’t the industry fight back? (sorry don’t understand why: no time, no funds?)

          4. Perry

            Good question. It’s a problem inherent to a capitalist system. Cosmetic companies are ultimately in competition. Many companies welcome the efforts of fearmongering groups because they can make implied claims that their products are “safer” than their competitors. Whenever a company puts something like “no sulfates” or “no parabens” on their labels, they are implying that sulfates and parabens (used by competitors) are somehow bad. This in-fighting will not go away so it would be nearly impossible to get a consensus by all cosmetic companies.

            Think about it like this. Right now the CFSC is going after J&J for their baby shampoo. This helps everyone else who is selling a baby shampoo. Why would any of those competitors want to help J&J out?

            That is why industry has a tough time fighting back.

          5. Eliza

            I understand Perry, the politics of it *bleah* Thank you for taking the time to explain the dynamics, they suck 🙁

  3. Eliza

    Perry, thank you for bringing this up!
    I wish there was a way for us to do something about this. Like push back with another campaign or a media rally of angry scientists 😉

    1. Perry

      Unfortunately, J&J will most likely give in to demands by these groups and make formulation changes away from perfectly safe products. They’ll have to switch to chemicals that have not been studied as much and have a higher likelihood of being dangerous. Congratulations CFSC, you’ve just made cosmetics less safe.

  4. Mark Fuller

    I could not agree more with everything Perry said. It is a disaster when Chemistry is influenced by emotional hysteria. This hysteria makes for a great article for some Journalist looking to fill some column space. A long time ago Chicken Little learned that “The Sky is Falling” makes for a great news article.

    Now that being said, pragmatically sometimes you will have no choice. As a Formulator who came over from Pharmacy, I LOVE PARABENS! Give me an appropriate product and I can preserve it with parabens and pass ant PET Testing. However, I haven’t used parabens in over 36 months because of the Marketing demands. I use a lot of PE9010 which I am starting to feel good about, but I still would sleep better with parabens.

    1. David

      I’m curious, why would you sleep better with parabens? I’m not a scientist, but stumbled across this site because my daughter’s eyes burn from J&J baby shampoo, and we’re looking for an alternative. My wife has talked about parabens though, and that makes me wonder.

      1. Perry Romanowski

        Parabens are not likely to be he cause of your daughter’s eyes burning.

        1. David

          Thank you. What is likely to cause the burning then? And what’s the reason for sleeping better if parabens would be used? Maybe Mark needs to answer the second question.

          1. Perry Romanowski

            Yes I’ll let Mark comment. I suspect he would say that products preserved with parabens are demonstrably more safe than unpreserved products. Microbial contamination and bacterial infection are very real & dangerous problems that parabens prevent.

            As far as your daughter’s eyes, J&J shampoo doesn’t have any parabens in it. Most likely the problem is either the fragrance or one of the surfactants.

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