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The Dirty Truth Behind This Company's Baby Shampoo

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Baby products are supposed to be safe, right? At least that's the idea. But according to an international coalition of health and environmental groups, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , maker of No More Tears Baby Shampoo, is knowingly including two chemicals, dioxane and quaternium-15 -- a formaldehyde-releasing substance -- in its shampoo even though these chemicals are believed to cause cancer.

Causing more tears than it prevents?
Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, recently stated that her group has met with Johnson & Johnson three times since the spring of 2009, urging the company to remove the offending chemicals from its products.

In response to this, Johnson & Johnson said that it's "reducing or gradually phasing out the chemicals," but didn't respond to the campaign's demands directly.

Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that "formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are safe and approved by regulators in the U.S." However, according to a report released last June by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, and is also a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant.

Bad news is bad news
Johnson & Johnson is a household name that's usually synonymous with safety. But with recent reports of dangerous chemicals in its products, that appeal has been thrown into question. Even though Johnson & Johnson said that it's "reducing" the chemicals in its baby shampoo, as a soon-to-be mother I can tell you that I'll be staying far away from Johnson & Johnson products, and opting for more "chemically friendly" options.

Take, for example, Estee Lauder's (NYSE: EL  ) Aveda, which is widely regarded as a pioneer in green cosmetics and uses more than 90% certified organic essential oils, and 89% certified organic raw herbal ingredients; Unilever's (NYSE: UN  ) Fissan Baby Natural Care line, which contains natural ingredients like aloe vera, almond oil, and chamomile; Hain Celestial's (Nasdaq: HAIN  ) Baby Avalon Organics Gentle Tear-Free Shampoo & Body Wash, which has 100% vegetarian ingredients and is pediatrician confirmed; or Peter Rabbit Organics Carrot and Pumpkin Baby Care, available only at Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM  ) , which is completely free of harsh chemicals, artificial fragrances, and colors. These brands, brands like them, and exclusive retailers who sell these brands stand to benefit as concerned moms like myself look for more natural, "chemically friendly" ways to keep babies smelling "baby fresh." In a time when consumer spending remains soft, these companies could experience higher sales as the move toward more environmentally friendly products continues.

Not enough to bring down the titan, but still a wound for its reputation
Reports of dangerous chemicals in its products aren't enough to take down mega-company Johnson & Johnson, but it is enough to give consumers, especially new mothers, cause for concern. In a market where consumer confidence carries an enormous deal of sway, and branding/reputation is key, here's hoping that Johnson & Johnson starts to clean up its act.

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Fool contributor Katie Spence likes to keep things organic. She does not own shares of any company mentioned above. Follow her on Twitter @TMFKSpence. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market and Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Whole Foods Market and Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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