Johnson & Johnson plans to remove carcinogens from their products but are we happy?

Johnson and Johnson plans to remove carcinogens drkarenslee.comI’ve been feeling guilty and helpless lately about how I raised my kids. No, I’m not talking about “how” they turned out – trust me, I don’t expect them to be any different than they are. They are wonderful little human beings. They are kind, respectful, smart, funny, and healthy…minus a few allergies. I couldn’t possibly expect more. No, it’s not about “how” they turned out but how “I” did as a mom.

I’m talking about how, as a young mom 20 years ago, I didn’t know enough to shield them from negative influences, especially environmental factors, before and after their births. I feel crummy that, unknowingly, I ingested all kinds of chemicals, leaching them into my uterus while pregnant and actively feeding them through continued usage of toxic products after they were born. And unknowingly, I raised them in a toxic cesspool. I can’t expect them to be any more than the great persons they turned out to be. But I can’t help but to think, would they be even great-er than how they turned out, had I not exposed them to all these harmful chemicals when growing up?

Since I’ve embarked on this green journey, I felt like I joined this crusade a wee bit too late. But this feeling didn’t seem real until a film screening I recently attended called, Toxic Baby. When I was watching the film, I felt a visceral pain, filled guilt, shoot through my nerves as I watched in horror, the damage I might have caused my kids, unknowingly, through using toxic products. How was I supposed to know, 20 years ago, that Phthalates, Lead, Parabens, Formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, quaternium-15, (a chemical that releases carcinogen, Formaldehyde), BPA and alike, were (and still are) toxic chemicals that were used in common household and baby products? And that they continue to cause damage to kids and adults and yet, they are still being used by companies? I didn’t. There weren’t enough studies to show – or at least consumers didn’t know – that these were dangerous chemicals then.

But now, things are different. We are being educated and becoming more proactive and alert. At least, I am. So this latest news from Johnson and Johnson shocked me, in a good way.

Johnson & Johnson plans to remove carcinogens from their products

While I was driving back from meeting a friend for lunch last Wednesday, I heard on the radio that Johnson & Johnson plans to remove some carcinogens out of their personal care products by 2015. I couldn’t believe my ears and I turned up the volume, as if I heard my lotto numbers were being announced.

The company had already promised last year to remove certain chemicals from its baby products by 2013, but the latest announcement included adult products by 2015, including well-known brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno and Clean & Clear.

National Director for Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, Lisa Archer said in the radio interview, “This is a good step in the right direction” and I couldn’t have agreed with her more. And as you can imagine, there were a flurry of news media outlets that reported this ginormous news, including The New York Times, WebMD and Reuters, just to name a few.

Environmental Working Group and SafeCosmetics.Org were being quoted everywhere all day since they worked tirelessly to have companies remove toxins from products for years, even supporting bills like the Safe Cosmetics Act.

As crazy as it might sound and despite my recent anger towards big corporations that “fooled” me into using these harmful chemicals all these years, I agree with EWG and Archer in being supportive of this move.

Unhappy Reactions

But not everyone agrees. In fact, when I posted about this on Facebook and checked on Twitter and blog posts, there were many people, either, criticizing the “late” timeline of 2015 or that this move, this promise, is nothing but “greenwashing” and that they still don’t trust J&J. Some criticized J&J for not proactively removing or not using these toxic chemicals from get go.

And some folks, rightfully so, stated, “I’ll believe it when I see it“, since they’ve been painstakingly watching this slow progress for years. Jennifer Taggart of The Smart Mama, a very smart environmental lawyer with a chemistry degree and a mom of two kids, blogs about how to limit children’s exposure from harmful chemicals. She truly is VERY smart in all things chemistry – she teaches me about methylations, oxidations or any other questions about chemistry whenever I have a question.

Anyway, Jennifer commented last year when J&J announced that they will be removing 1,4-dioxane and quaternium-15, from baby products around the world. “I’m glad that they’re moving forward. I’m disappointed that it’s taking so long,“, she said and she will continue to advise her readers to avoid J&J products. She stated, “In my household, we never use J&J baby products because they contain a number of potentially harmful chemicals…If they can produce for Europe a product that doesn’t contain carcinogens, why can’t they produce it for (American) babies?” And she is critical, this time too, about J&J promising to remove toxins by 2015. Not soon enough, she thinks, because as you can see from the ingredients list below (*Click to enlarge the list), the toxins are still in these bottles and will continue to be used until J&J’s promise to remove them by 2015.

Ironically enough, when my mom found out she’s allergic to formaldehyde year ago, the dermatologist recommended using Johnson & Johnson baby products, citing that they are “very gentle” so she shouldn’t have problems with skin rashes. So she switched to these Johnson & Johnson products! These bottles are from her bathroom! If doctors can’t tell what these chemicals are in these products, how are we, the average consumers, to know? So, you can understand why J&J’s announcement is not well received by many. It’s taking too long for them to remove these carcinogens while we are being poisoned.


Like Jennifer and so many others, I don’t use J&J products either, upon discovering years ago, that there are far safer products without toxins for my family. I removed these bottles from my mom’s bathroom after taking these photos. I had no idea she was using these. Sometimes, you have to raise your parents too. *sigh*

But despite my trepidation towards J&J’s announcement, I can’t help but to feel that this move is a (BIG) step in the right direction and I am cautiously optimistic.

Why am I optimistic?

I am optimistic because I am hoping, no, I believe that J&J has no choice but to change its practices and start listening to us now more than ever.

Compared to 20 years ago when I was raising my kids, there are a lot more information about the dangers of these toxic chemicals. More studies have been done, and more data is available on the side effects from short-term and long-term use of these toxins. Not only that, we have become smarter to ask questions, research, and demand transparency. Also, we have better access to facts with the advent of the internet and social media. The dangers of carcinogens in personal care products is always in the news and consumers can make smart choices easier than before. And companies realize that consumers will NOT be fooled and that they need to listen to them, as J&J admitted last week.

Furthermore, this move will make other personal care product companies like Unilever, Estée Lauder companies, Proctor and Gamble, Avon L’Oreal and alike to follow J&J’s footstep. And what I find comforting is that Safe Cosmetics promises to continue to urge these companies to do what J&J did. I know this announcement is not really “new” by J&J and they have been making these promises in drips and drabs. And trust me; I go back and forth with feeling guilty that I used these toxic chemicals on my kids when they were babies, d.a.i.l.y., unknowingly. But call me a hopeless optimist but from what I’ve been “feeling” lately on other related fronts, something tells me, this latest announcement is very different from the past.

Also, organizations like EWG and Safe Cosmetics continue to work tirelessly for the public. This is why we should support these two organizations so that they can continue to do the important work that they do on our behalf. (*No, this is NOT a paid endorsement.) We reap the benefits of their hard work in pursuing companies to make safer products and their lobbying efforts to pass bills for a safer environment. And even if victories are not always felt or seem immediately obvious, companies, like J&J, listen and congress pays attention.


What can we do make sure change happens quicker?

J&J even launched a website on Wednesday, dedicated to being transparent about their committment on Safety and Care Commitment. You can find detailed information of manufacturers and suppliers on composition of ingredients and any trace chemicals in them and their environmental health and safety practices.

You want to ask J&J to speed up the process faster? Sign this letter, thanking them, and asking them to “make these commitments a reality as soon as possible, and that the company extend the commitment to all of its cosmetics, including adult products.” Sign and send this letter to OTHER companies to follow J&J and make safer products.

We can continue to battle companies and demand better. We must continue to urge them and let them know how influential we are as consumers. We did it once and made them change. We can do it again to help them change faster.

What do you think about Johnson and Johnson’s latest news to remove these carcinogens by 2015?


  1. chelseaboots says

    It also makes me mad that a company that I trusted when my son was an infant betrayed that trust. Is the reason why they are so slow with changing the ingredients because they have long term contracts for these ingredients? What country does formaldehyde come from? I have switched all products to soaps and lotions that are eco/organic locally made. I would rather support a small business who is honest than a worldwide conglomerate who has no thought for their customer’s health and safety.

  2. Jennifer Lee says

    Thanks Karen for your vigilance Karen. I too feel bad for exposing my kids to these chemicals. I can’t undo what’s done but can only move forward and get the word out there so another mom doesn’t have to feel the same guilt. Thanks to you, I can try to help by boycotting their products and getting the message out there to as many consumers as possible. This will hopefully get to the “change” quicker and have all their other products free of these harmful chemicals.

    • says

      Thanks Jennifer!

      You are right – we can’t undo what’s already done. But we have to continue to fight these companies with our purchasing power!

  3. says

    I can totally relate. I feel like that with my sons. I have a 7 year old, 5 year old, and 11 month old. I’m way more educated and have eliminated toxic cleaners (shampoos, dish soap, laundry soap, heck I even make my own household cleaning spray), but I feel guilty that I exposed my oldest son to more toxic chemicals unknowingly. Smart Mama is so right – if J&J are already producing non-toxic versions for Europe then why can’t they just do it already for the US? I’m happy they’re making the changes and hope that it’s more than greenwashing.

    • says

      We have to continue to pressure J&J so they can make the change faster so our future kids will be safer….we can’t turn back the clock but we can prevent more damage to our future leaders.

      Let’s turn our guilt into a mission to change the way companies control our lives.

  4. DeDe@DesignedDecor says

    I too feel the guilt of not knowing these things as I raised my boys. I believe that these large companies now have no choice in todays society. We are becoming educated and we the consumer can make choices. If the large companies do not change, they will all be out of business.

    • says

      You too? Doesn’t it feel awful sometimes?

      But in a weird way, even though I should feel mad that these companies for poisoning our kids, I feel emboldened that J&J is taking this course of action. And I feel as if we won in a way, albeit a little late for our kids. This action wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t pressure them. We have to do it for our young nieces, nephews, and our grandchildren. We might not have done the right thing for our own kids but now that we know, we have to continue to fight for our kids’ kids.

  5. says

    Oh Karen!!You did the best you could with what you knew at the time,as we all do.I am thankful my eyes were opened before I had my kids but I often wonder how different “I” might be if I hadn’t been exposed to all the chemicals and poisons.I won’t bore you with all of my *issues* with my health and sensitivities but I know for sure that if I had been raised the way my kids are being raised I would be a lot healthier now.
    I hope you have enough optimism for us both because frankly,I don’t trust J&J or any of the big names as far as I can throw them.
    I will do what I can to encourage the progress so thanks for sharing :)

    • says

      Sorry to hear about your sensitivities. Like you, there are so many health issues that plague us that are caused by these chemicals. That’s why it’s so important to keep these companies pressured into removing them. We can stop buying from them but it’s just as important to voice our opinions so they know that we are not stupid. We need to spread the word and educate others so they can follow too. :)

    • says

      That’s the plan Carolyn! I think they realized that the public is not going to be fooled and they were up against the wall with organizations like Safe Cosmetics and EWG pressuring them also. Let’s keep up the pressure. Hope you’ll sign those letters in the post and let them know they are not out of the woods yet and that we’ll be watching.

  6. Vee says

    I feel very much like you, as a mother, as a consumer and find your post very interesting. Although you are totally right: consumers should encourage corporations’ initiatives to change their practices… I’m not as optimistic as you say you are and tend to be the “wait and see” sort of person. I find it difficult to just trust people who, unlike us, “average consumers”, have known forever that they were poisoning not only those who bought their products but populations worldwide, who never wanted them and whose water, earth and air were endangered/destroyed … for profits! Until their profits are at risk, I find it hard to believe that any corporation will make a major change to satisfy a -maybe- loud, but minority group! If sustainability was really their point, why didn’t they do anything earlier? Or why is it taking so long?
    I don’t know! I suppose I’ve become suspicious with time…
    Vee, writing from France

    • says

      I know what you mean by not trusting them. And you are right – we have to hurt their profits so they can change. We have to let our voices be heard so they know we won’t buy their products as long as they continue to poison us. So I hope you’ll fill out those two forms in the post to let them know and other companies know.

      J&J announcing their intentions to remove these chemicals is like announcing to your friends that you are quitting smoking. You made a commitment and everyone will be watching. We have to be vigilant and make sure they keep their promises.

      Thanks for writing from France Vee! :)

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