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Baby Products Found to Contain Two Carcinogens

Baby Bath Products and Cancer Risk

Chemicals found in personal care products have been under scrutiny for years, so it comes as no surprise that more than half of the baby products on the market today contain carcinogens. What is surprising are the two toxins being pinpointed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, chemicals that don't appear at all on labels or ingredients lists.

28 baby care products including shampoo, soap, and bubble bath from leading brands were tested for formaldehyde, and 48 were tested for the chemical 1,4-dioxane. Of these, 23 were found to contain formaldehyde, 32 dioxane, and 17 of the baby products that were examined contained both of the potential carcinogens – two chemicals that are not included on ingredient lists because they are considered "chemical byproducts" that occur during the manufacture of soap, shampoo, and other items.


The health advocacy group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics analyzed products made by major brands in the United States and found that 23 of 28 products contain formaldehyde, a preservative used in paint, resins, permanent adhesives, insulation, explosives and materials such as carpeting and particle board. Formaldehyde is also used as a disinfectant to kill bacteria and fungi, particularly in laboratory settings, where it is used as a preservative for organic specimens.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") lists formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. It is also known to trigger headaches and allergic reactions. Formaldehyde has been banned from use in personal care products in several countries, including Sweden and Japan.


32 of the 48 products tested for 1,4-dioxane contained this chemical, also classed as a probable carcinogen by the EPA. 1,4-dioxane is a bi-product of the process that refines petroleum for use in personal care products and is used as an industrial solvent.

Like formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxin is a respiratory and eye irritant. It may cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system. Since 1988, 1,4-dioxin has been listed as a carcinogen by the State of California. It is banned from personal care products in the European Union.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a non-profit group working to raise awareness about the health hazards of many of the products taken for granted by American consumers.

Members of the Campaign include the Breast Cancer Fund, Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, Friends of the Earth, National Black Environmental Justice Network, Women's Voices for the Earth, and the Environmental Working Group.

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The research behind these findings, released March 12, 2009, was conducted by Analytical Sciences - an independent laboratory in California.

Response from Industry: Johnson & Johnson

The response from the makers of these baby products emphasizes the low, "acceptable" concentrations of formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxin occurring in their products.

"The FDA and other government agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe, and all our products meet or exceed the regulatory requirements in every country where they are sold," says industry leader Johnson & Johnson.

John Bailey, a spokesperson for the Council for Personal Care Products, claims that these findings are nothing new and should not concern consumers. "Cosmetic and personal care product companies take their commitment to safety and their responsibilities under the law very seriously and work hard to earn and keep the trust of consumers and their families," he said, going on to describe these findings as "incomplete and alarmist reports."

Yet many doctors and experts report that even small levels of such ingredients found in baby products accumulate and can cause long-term damage to infants' health.

Environmental health pediatrician Sheela Sathyanarayana reports that children often become "extremely sensitized" by even limited exposure to formaldehyde, contributing to skin reactions to many other chemicals and ingredients.

Even supposedly "natural" products are not completely safe in terms of these chemicals.

Although you won't find 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde listed on product bottles, one way to trace them is by looking for other chemicals that are usually contaminated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane, including: peg-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea and sodium hydroxymethoylglycinate.


Layton, Lyndsey, "Probable carcinogens found in baby products," The Washington Post, March 13, 2009.

Szabo, Liz, "Group finds carcinogens in bath products," USA Today, March 12, 2009.