New Concerns Raised About Chemical in Leading Baby Shampoo

Chemicals in Leading Baby Shampoo

SAN FRANCISCO – A peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association raises fresh concerns that a chemical preservative used in America’s leading baby shampoo may be causing increased rates of allergic contact dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin that varies from mild irritation to rashes and open sores.

The paper states that quaternium 15, a chemical preservative that kills bacteria by releasing formaldehyde, “is the most sensitizing formaldehyde-releasing preservative and has been repeatedly shown to be a strong allergen that can cause contact dermatitis.” Quaternium 15 -- found in many baby products including Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, Mr. Bubble Bath and Huggies Baby Wash -- is considered by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group to be among the most clinically significant contact allergens in children.

“Quaternium 15 is present in an alarmingly high number of baby products, making exposure and sensitization at an early age increasingly common,” said Sharon Jacob, M.D., co-author of the paper and physician at the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics at Rady Children’s Hospital. “This is a concern because repeated exposures to sensitizing chemicals, especially in early life, can cause a person to develop allergic reactions over time. Therefore, we advise parents to choose products without quaternium 15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives whenever possible.”

According to Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database of cosmetic safety (, more than 600 products contain quaternium 15, many of them baby products labeled “extra gentle” and “for extra sensitive skin.” Johnson & Johnson and Cover Girl make the highest number of products in the database containing the chemical.

An estimated 72.9 million adults in the United States suffer from allergic contact dermatitis, and most are never properly diagnosed, according to the cover article in the July 2009 Skin & Aging magazine, co-authored by Dr. Jacob. The authors conclude that proper diagnosis and avoidance of sensitizing chemicals could help patients avoid a lifetime of contact dermatitis.

The papers come on the heels of a March 2009 report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, No More Toxic Tub: Getting Contaminants Out of Children's Bath & Personal Care Products, which revealed that dozens of top-selling children’s bath products, including Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, were contaminated with the carcinogens formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.

In the wake of the March report, thousands of stores in China pulled Johnson’s baby products off shelves and several class-action lawsuits were filed against the company. New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand introduced a bill in Congress that would require FDA to limit contaminants in baby bath products.

In August, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the American Nurses Association met with top executives from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ: NYSE) to ask the company to remove hazardous chemicals from its popular children’s products.

“The meeting was a positive step, and we’re optimistic that a productive dialogue will continue,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics from the Breast Cancer Fund. “We urge Johnson & Johnson to show its leadership by reformulating its baby products to remove quaternium 15 and other chemicals of concern. Many companies are already making products without these hazardous ingredients.”


Founding members of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics include Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Fund, Commonweal, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, National Black Environmental Justice Network, National Environmental Trust and Women's Voices for the Earth.

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