Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Group Finds Carcinogens in Kids Bath Products

Many children's bath products contain chemicals that may cause cancer and skin allergies, according to a report released Thursday by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Twenty-three of 28 products tested contained formaldehyde, the report says. Formaldehyde - considered a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, - is released as preservatives break down over time in a container.

Thirty-two of 48 products contained 1,4-dioxane, also considered a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, is a byproduct of a chemical processing techniques used to make petroleum-based ingredients gentler to the skin. Nearly two-thirds of products tested, including Johnson's Baby Shampoo, contained both chemicals, according to the campaign, a coalition of environmental and health groups that includes the Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Working Group.

Formaldehyde can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, the report says, and Japan and Sweden have banned formaldehyde from personal care products.

Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory in Petaluma, Calif., performed the tests.

A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, Iris Grossman, says the company's products are safe, meeting or exceeding all regulations. And a spokesman for the Personal Care Products Council says the study's results are old news.

Manufacturers have known for years that bubble bath, shampoo and other products contain small amounts of formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, and have already reduced theses levels significantly, says John Bailey, the council's chief scientist.

Bailey says that preservatives make products safer by preventing the growth of bacteria, fungus and other potentially harmful microbes. There's no reason to take "extraordinary measures" to further reduce levels of these chemicals, he says, because there's no evidence to prove that low levels pose a risk.

"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," Bailey said in a statement. "Parents should be given complete and accurate information about their products based on sound science rather than on incomplete and alarmist reports."

Other scientists say the report raises important safety concerns.

Sheela Sathyanarayana, an environmental health pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital and an assistant professor at the University of Washington, says she's seen kids become "extremely sensitized" from formaldehyde exposures. These children develop bigger and bigger reactions with each new exposure. That can make skin sensitive to a variety of substances, beyond just formaldehyde, she says.

Although Sathyanarayana was not involved in the new report, her research has shown that many other baby products contain chemicals called phthalates, which can interfere with the hormone system.

She notes that formaldehyde also irritates the nasal and respiratory passages.

A report released last week by the Organic Consumers Association found that makers of many personal products and household cleaners have significantly reduced levels of 1,4-dioxane in the past year. The study found that products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic seal, such as items by Dr. Bronner's, Intelligent Nutrients and Terressentials, were free of 1,4-dioxane.

Whole Foods is reformulating its 365 Everyday Value products to be free of 1,4-dioxane by this summer, spokeswoman Libba Letton says.

Brands that have sharply reduced levels of 1,4-dioxane since March 2008, when the association released its last report, include: Earth Friendly Products, Ecco Bella, Giovanni, Jason, Johnson & Johnson, Kiss My Face, Life Tree, Method, Nature's Gate, Planet Ultra and Seventh Generation, which contributed $10,000 to fund the Organic Consumers Association study.

Products tested

A new study from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that many baby bath products contain formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, which are both linked to cancer and skin allergies. The campaign notes that products with formaldehyde levels over 500 parts per million require warning labels in Europe, although not in the USA.