Gleams & Notions

A Closer Look at J&J's Reformulation Plans

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | September 28, 2012

As I scanned newspapers and other media looking for cosmetic industry news, I found two interesting stories. The first, from the Associated Press, included the headline “J&J vows to be toxic free.”

Underneath was the subhead, “Most of its products will be made without risky chemicals by 2016.” The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which includes more than 175 non-profit groups representing 1.7 million members—ranging from the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth to the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility—began pushing Johnson & Johnson in May 2009 to remove “harsh and toxic” chemicals from its brands to protect consumers and workers.

Environmental groups are all smiles, following a recent announcement by Johnson & Johnson.
J&J stated that it would have its baby products, including its No More Tears baby shampoo, reformulated with safer ingredients by the end of 2013; adult products will be reformulated by the end of 2015. On its website, J&J details the measures that it takes to ensure its ingredients are safe and of high quality. These measures include detailed questioning of manufacturers and suppliers covering everything from the composition of ingredients and any trace chemicals in them to their environmental health and safety practices.

The two immediate chemicals in question are 1,4 dioxane and the preservative formaldehyde which is slowly released by Quaternium 15 and other formaldehyde donor products. Both of these are called probable carcinogens, and formaldehyde is also a skin, eye and respiratory irritant.

Years ago, I formulated with no more than 0.1% formaldehyde as a preservative and it functioned very well at this minute amount. However, the material was volatile, and could evaporate if the product was in a heated atmosphere. Formaldehyde is not banned by the FDA.

By 2015, J&J, according to the article, will also phase out triclosan, phthalates and parabens, as well as fragrance ingredients that are not disclosed on product labels. Since some fragrances can contain 50 to 100 separate ingredients, the product will require quite a large label, which seems impractical to me. However, J&J will allow chemicals that release formaldehyde when no other safe alternative will work, and J&J is reducing levels of 1,4 dioxane to below 10 parts per million.

These environmental groups were going to announce plans in 2011 for a consumer boycott of J&J products, but the plans were cancelled when J&J quickly agreed to modify its products.

Sunscreen Concerns
The second story, which I discovered on, could mean more bad news for our industry. The exposé claims “some doctors call ultra-high SPF numbers a misleading marketing ploy.”

SPFs of 80, 100 and 110 have been produced. It is pointed out that an SPF of 100 is not twice as effective as one of 50. It is only 1% more effective according to the article, yet you pay more for the higher numbered products. The FDA is proposing new rules that would ban an SPF over 50. Three cosmetic companies made statements to NBC News. I quote from Banana Boat:

“All Banana Boat brand sunscreens comply with FDA labeling and product requirements, which currently allow sunscreens above SPF 50. The FDA has not yet come to a final conclusion on labeling of sunscreens SFP 50 and above, and has requested information from manufacturers to help them determine the benefit these sunscreens would provide to consumers.”

It mentions that a proposed testing protocol was sent to FDA to demonstrate that SPFs higher than 50 provide a “meaningful benefit” to consumers. Also that it will provide benefits to people with a higher sensitivity to sun damage. This story is far from over, however. Stay tuned.


Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.
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