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Cancer Chemicals Found in Baby Products

Mar 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Possible carcinogens have been found to be present in some baby products, according to breaking reports.  The Washington Post said that over half of the baby products tested - shampoos, bubble baths, and lotions, for example - in a recent analysis conducted by the nonprofit health advocacy group, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), tested positive for cancer-causing toxins.

The Washington Post said that, according to CSC, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Baby Shampoo and Baby Magic lotion both tested positive for either 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde, or both.  Web MD pointed out that the two chemicals will likely not be listed on baby product labels, but not appearing on the label does not indicate that the products are free of the dangerous chemicals.  As a matter-of-fact, Web MD pointed out that because the toxins are not intentional ingredients, the manufacturers are not required to list the chemicals, even when present in the products.  Worse, noted Web MD, federal restrictions do not exist for permissible levels of the chemicals in “body care products” here in the United States.

In other countries, the chemicals are simply not allowed in such products:  formaldehyde is banned in cosmetics sold in Japan and Sweden; 1,4-dioxane is banned from cosmetic products in the European Union (EU), reported WebMD.  While the FDA has not established safe levels for 1,4-dioxane in personal care or cosmetic products, it claims that the trace amounts are safe. However, its own 1982 study concluded that the carcinogenic chemical can penetrate human skin when present and used in lotions, said the Washington Post.

The Washington Post also noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde as “probable carcinogens” and explained that the chemicals are not part of the tested products’ recipes, but are actually byproducts created in the products’ manufacturing processes.  Formaldehyde develops when other chemicals break down in time and 1,4-dioxane occurs as part of the chemical process when foaming agents are mixed with ethylene oxide and other petrochemicals, said the Washington Post.  Petroleum-based ingredients, such as petrochemicals are often added, said Web MD, to make the final product softer on the skin.

Of the 48 products analyzed by CSC, 32 contained trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane; 23 had small formaldehyde levels, and 17 contained both 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, said the Washington Post.  Which means, said WebMD, that 61 percent of the baby products tested contained both carcinogens, 82 percent contained formaldehyde, and 67 percent contained 1,4-dioxane.

The information elicited mixed, but predictable responses.  CSC is urging stricter government regulation of personal care products and called on manufacturers to comply with current standards, said the Washington Post.   J&J, in a statement, claimed its products to be safe, meeting or exceeding requirements where its products are sold worldwide.  

But, Stacy Malkan, a spokeswoman for CSC, pointed out that regardless of how low the level, there are low levels of carcinogens in a wide variety of products, which increases actual aggregate exposures, reported the Washington Post.  The Post added that no studies have ever actually examined the effects of these chemicals on the susceptible and developing bodies of babies and children.


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