Report: Toxins Common in Baby Products

Of the Baby Products Tested, 61% Contained Formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane

From the WebMD Archives

March 12, 2009 -- You aren’t likely to see the chemicals formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane listed on the labels of baby bath products, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, a consumer group is warning.

More than half of children’s bath soaps, shampoos, lotions, and other personal care products tested by the group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) were found to contain 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, according to a report released today.

Both of the chemicals are considered probable carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because they are not intentionally added by manufacturers, there is no requirement that product labels list the chemicals when they are present.

There are also no federal restrictions on allowable levels of the chemicals in body care products, but several other countries do not allow the chemicals at any level.

The European Union has banned 1,4-dioxane from cosmetic products. And formaldehyde is not allowed in cosmetics sold in Japan and Sweden.

“Manufacturers could easily remove these toxic byproducts, but they are not required to do so under federal cosmetics safety standards,” Sonya Lunder, MPH, of CSC and the Environmental Working Group tells WebMD.

Lunder says there is no simple way for parents to tell if the baby bath products they are purchasing contain the chemical byproducts. In an earlier test, CSC found that many products labeled “natural” or “organic” contained 1,4-dioxane.

“The main thing parents can do is use fewer body care products on their children or look for those products with fewer ingredients,” she says. “Labels that say ‘gentle’ or ‘pure’ or even ‘organic’ don’t really tell you much.”

61% of Products Had Both Chemicals

The CSC had 48 baby and child personal care products tested for 1,4-dioxane, which occurs as a byproduct of a chemical process used to make petroleum-based cosmetic ingredients gentler to the skin.

The products were chosen because they contained ingredients most likely to produce the chemical.

Twenty-eight products were tested for 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, which occurs when preservatives commonly used in cosmetic products break down.

According to the report:

  • Seventeen out of 28 products tested (61%) were found to contain both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Twenty-three out of 28 products (82%) contained formaldehyde, and 32 of 48 products (67%) contained 1,4-dioxane.
  • Baby Magic “Soft Baby Scent” Lotion contained the highest levels of formaldehyde found in the testing. Two samples of the lotion contained 570 and 610 parts per million (ppm) of the chemical. The report noted that a formaldehyde level above 500 ppm would require a warning label in Europe.
  • Several samples of “American Girl” shower products, sold by Bath & Body Works, contained the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane found in the test.
  • Best-selling products found to contain both chemical contaminants included Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, Sesame Street Bubble Bath, Grins & Giggles Milk & Honey Baby Wash and Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea Baby Wash.

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Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD, leads the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry funded, government-backed panel that assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics.

She tells WebMD that if the CSC report is accurate, it suggests that manufacturers are not doing a good enough job of removing 1,4-dioxane from their products.

“Dioxane should not be in any baby care or children’s cosmetic, period, because it is possible to take it out,” she says. “Formaldehyde is a different story.”

She says the formaldehyde levels cited in the report were well within what has been shown to be safe.

The review panel recommends that formaldehyde levels in personal care products should not exceed 2,000 ppm. The highest level of formaldehyde found in any single product tested by the CSC was 610 ppm.

“We know from animal and human studies that this level is safe and can be used in all ages, with the exception of people with formaldehyde sensitivities,” she says.

Baby Care Companies Respond

The Baby Magic line of bath products has been sold since the testing was done, and a spokeswoman for Naterra International Inc., the company that now markets the products, tells WebMD that the tested lotion has been reformulated.

Melanie Dean-Valdez says the product formulations tested by the CSC are no longer being sold.

In a statement issued late Wednesday by Johnson & Johnson, the company charged that the report “inaccurately characterized the safety of our products” and “unnecessarily alarms parents.”

“The trace levels of certain compounds found by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics can result from processes that make our products gentle for babies and safe from bacteria growth,” the statement notes. "The FDA and other government agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe, and all our products meet or exceed the regulatory requirements for every country where they are sold.”

Limited Brands, which owns Bath & Body Works, issued a statement Thursday noting that the company complies “with all applicable regulations and is committed to selling only the safest and highest-quality products.”

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More Industry Response

In an interview with WebMD, a spokesman for the cosmetics industry group Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) was highly critical of the CSC report.

“I am very alarmed that they would make these accusations and not back it up with solid science,” says chemist John Bailey, PhD. “The report included no details about how this testing was done.”

Bailey noted that the levels of the two chemicals found in the CSC analysis are well below established safety limits.

In a written statement, the cosmetics industry group characterized the CSC report as “incomplete and alarmist.”

“Allegations that commonly used baby products are somehow contaminated with harmful levels of carcinogenic chemicals are patently false and a shameful and cynical attempt by an activist group to incite and prey upon parental worries and concerns in order to push a political, legislative, and legal agenda,” the statement notes.

The CSC report calls for stronger government regulation to prohibit toxic contaminants in baby and other personal care products. And it calls on the industry to reformulate their products to remove the contaminants.

Bailey tells WebMD that manufacturers do take reasonable steps to keep levels of the chemical byproducts “well below that which would be considered harmful,” but he adds that it is unrealistic to expect that they can be completely eliminated from all products.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 12, 2009

Sources

SOURCES:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: “No More Toxic Tub: Getting Contaminants Out of Children’s Bath and Personal Care Products.”

Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst, Environmental Working Group.

John Bailey, PhD, chief scientist, Personal Care Products Council.

Melanie Dean-Valdez, spokeswoman, Naterra International Inc.

Iris Grossman, spokeswoman, Johnson & Johnson.

Jennifer Ortiz Brown, spokeswoman, Limited Brands.

News release, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Wilma F. Bergfeld, MD, senior dermatologist, Cleveland Clinic; chairwoman, Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel.

© 2009 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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