A Label Reading Lesson: Johnson & Johnson’s Head to Toe Baby Wash

I’m always harping on about reading labels.  I know it is difficult to read labels while shopping with kids.  Who has time to read the label on each product with 2 kids tugging on you, demanding to go to the toy section right now! At least, that is what happens to me if I am shopping at Target.  So, not only is it hard to have time to read labels while shopping, it is even harder to figure out what the label says.  

And those labels can be tricky to decipher.  And what about the claims on the packaging?  Can you trust them? 

Well, let’s look at a baby staple.  Johnson’s Head-to-Toe baby wash from Johnson & Johnson.  And let’s hope I don’t get sued. 

First, let’s look at the claims.  The website advertises the product as “an ultra-mild cleanser for your baby’s skin and hair that’s gentle enough even for newborns.”  It also proclaims it “the #1 choice of hospitals” and “milder than baby soap.”  The “no more tears” formula is “as gentle to the eyes as pure water” and the product is “soap-free, dye-free, hypoallergenic and allergy- and dermatologist-tested.” 
baby washNone of these claims, including hypoallergenic, allergy-tested and dermatologist-tested have any regulatory meaning.  Keep in mind that, according to the Food & Drug Administration, a cosmetic company does not have to prove its claims or the efficacy of the products.  There is no regulatory definition of “hypoallergenic” – you think it means that the product will not cause allergic reactions or irritant responses.  Keep that thought in mind when we discuss the ingredients.  A company can label a product as “hypoallergenic” without having any proof to back up that claim.  There are no standardized guidelines for this claim, just as there are no guidelines for dermatologist tested or allergy tested.  Before we can talk about the claim that the product is “as gentle to the eyes as pure water,” we need to talk about the ingredients.  The ingredients are: 

Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Polyquaternium-10, Fragrance, Quaternium-15, Citric Acid. 

PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate and PEG-150 Distearate are all ethoxylated compounds.  Ethoxylated compounds, unless vacuum stripped, are contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.  1,4-dioxane has been identified as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  1,4-dioxane is not listed on the ingredient list because it is a contaminant from the manufacturing process, not an ingredient.  The FDA encourages manufacturers to remove 1,4-dioxane from products, but there is no requirement that it be done.  And, testing reported by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics did find 1,4-dioxane in Johnson’s Head-to-Toe baby wash at 5.3 to 6.1 parts per million (ppm).  In fact, in its FAQ section of its website, Johnson & Johnson admits that “[s]ome of the ingredients in our products may contain 1,4-dioxane as an incidental ingredient at extremely low levels.” 

Further, sodium laureth sulfate can cause eye and skin irritation.  Do you think that is consistent with the claim that the product is “hypoallergenic”?  Wouldn’t you expect it to be free of any ingredient known to cause irritant responses?  As a note, sodium laureth sulfate was widely reported on the web as being a carcinogen, but, at least to date, research by the EPA, OSHA, NTP and IARC has not suggested that sodium laureth sulfate is a carcinogen.   

Cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-80 sorbitan laurate and PEG-150 disterate can all cause allergic reactions.  Again, these ingredients aren’t what you would expect in a product advertising itself as hypoallergenic.  Cocamidopropyl betaine may also be contaminated with nitrosamines. 

Quaternium-15 may release formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.  But, I actually think that Quat-15, as it is called, is more of a problem because it is the number one cause of contact dermatitis from preservatives, according to the American Acadmey of Dermatology’s Testing Tray results.  Also, it is identified by the cosmetic industry’s Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel as a sensitizer, but is still considered safe by the CIR as a cosmetic ingredient.  (If you want to learn about the function of the CIR, I encourage you to read Stacy Malkan’s Not Just A Pretty Face).  It has also been linked to birth defects in laboratory animals when administered orally. 

Finally, the product contains “fragrance” – which means synthetic fragrance and, of course, phthalates.  Phthalates are used in fragrance to sustain the fragrance and make it adsorb better to the skin.  Johnson & Johnson admits that it uses diethyl phthalate (DEP) in its baby products.  And, as reported in a recent study, exposure to DEP in baby care products results in the presence of a DEP metabolite in baby urine.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means that they can mimic hormones and disrupt’s the body’s normal function.  Phthalates have been linked to premature breast development in girls, deteriorated sperm quality, low sperm counts and poor sperm morphology in men, and a host of other adverse health effects.   

So, how can this product claim to be “as gentle to the eyes are pure water” when it contains a host of chemicals known to be irritants, allergens or sensitizers?  And do you really want to use it on your baby?  I think that this staple baby product should be thrown out with the bath water.  But, hey, that’s just me. 
If you are looking for phthlate free baby care products, I have some listed here. 

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  1. I am so devastated that I brought my children up with J&J products because they had been used for babies forever!! To know that they along with the FDA allow for false claims and misleading information completely removes any hope for a protective government….. Thank you for the post even though it scared the bejeezus out of me. :(

    I market skin care products made from Dead Sea minerals. ONe of my fellow agents has been using our products on her babies because they don’t contain the chemicals other baby products do. Our products DOES contain essential oils which helps your skin as well.

  2. Concerned_Mom says:

    I tried to share this article on Facebook and my post was blocked. Facebook sent me a message saying that the site was unsafe! They are probably getting paid for it. I found a way to share it though.


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