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Monday, August 6, 2012

What's in your baby's toiletries? Learnings from the Johnson & Johnson Event

I was a Johnsons baby.  I remember growing up and choosing from the different scents of Johnsons' baby cologne.  The No-Tear yellow shampoo was also a staple in our bathroom.  Then I became a mom and became aware of the Cosmetics Database.  I read about the dangers in our cosmetics and to watch out for certain ingredients - dirty dozen, which includes parabens, phthalates, SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl ether sulfate).  These are considered skin and/or eye irritants or endocrine disrupters.

Johnson & Johnson has been under fire because of certain ingredients in its baby shampoo.  A couple of friends have been discussing about it and because OC Mom in Manila used to be a J&J employee, she brought it up with her friends.  J&J organized a Q&A in late June with the press and moms to discuss their products and the issues surrounding the ingredients.

Before attending the talk, I did some homework and was quite impressed when I read J&J's credo - that their first responsibility is to mothers and fathers and all others who use their products and service.  I was also happy that such a big company took time to listen to and address the concerns of a mom-consumer.

I attended the talk which included the pediatrician dermatologists in the Philippines.  Did you know that there are only 6 pedia-dermas in the country?  One of them is the mom of N's classmate while the other was N's pedia-derma when she had some rashes on her leg.  These doctors are trained as dermatologists first then obtain further training on pediatric issues.

The first speaker was Dr. Ma. Victoria C. Dizon, one of the pedia-dermas.  She emphasized that baby's skin is not similar to an adult's or even a child's skin.  Baby's skin has a thinner epidermis and we must be careful about the products we use on baby's skin.  Dr. Dizon also emphasized how clinically tested is not the same as clinically proven mildness.

Clinically tested means it was tested in a laboratory but does not say how many times or what the result is.  Clinically proven mildness means that at least 6 different tests were conducted on each and every ingredient to prove safety in use plus 2 additional safety tests on the product itself to pass the stringent medical review.  *Note that "clinically proven mildness" is a trademark by J&J. Finally, she shared that products which are marked "natural" have no regulation.  In fact, even if water is the only "natural" ingredient, the product can still call itself natural.

The second speaker was from J&J Singapore - Robert Kwon.  He shared how J&J ensures that the products they manufacture are safe for baby's use.  I did find him somewhat patronizing.  He emphasized that all their claims are backed by researched unlike "bloggers" who talk about the "dangerous ingredients"in baby products.  Of course, big companies will never release adverse research about their products and it is up to non-profit organizations who act as watchdogs to identify and release these information to the public.

Robert also emphasized about how all the ingredients in their products went through rigorous testing for safety.  He also talked about NOEL or the "no observable effect level" - a safety testing where at this level, no effect on animals is seen.  He shared that this amount is divided by 100 and that is the maximum allowable level on their products.  However, in reality, the only use 1/10 of this 1/100 of NOEL.

On the formaldehyde issue, Robert stated that it is a naturally-occuring substance and that an apple has more formaldehyde than their gold shampoo.  I asked several questions - focusing essentially on why I will choose their products over other products with no such ingredients.  He answered that their products are backed by years of research and testing and has proven safety records.  Further, because a products is natural or organic, it doesn't mean that it is safe.  The formaldehyde is the by-product of one of the ingredients they use to counter bacteria growth. For Robert, I should be worried about products without that ingredient as I cannot be sure that there will be no bacteria growth.

Considering that apples and bananas also release formaldehyde, to minimize the exposure of my child to it, I would rather drop the formaldehyde producing toiletries than the fruits - toiletries are much easier to replace than fruits, in my opinion.   I do admire J&J's response to this - even if they back the safety of their products with years of research, because their number one responsibility are the people who use their products, they understand the mothers' concerns and emotions and have in fact phased out the formaldehyde producing ingredients in their products.

Despite my concerns about J&J products, one major learning I have from this event is how J&J takes care of its employees and thus, gain their loyalty.  Kris was a former employee and the reason why this event came to being was because several moms raised questions about the safety of J&J products in an informal forum.  Even if she was no longer connected with the company, Kris was concerned and brought it up with the responsible persons.  I exchanged a series of emails with Juni Corleto who responded to my queries.

During the event itself, I could see how the employees were passionate about J&J and you can only get that kind of loyalty if your employees are happy. Further, most of their employees had been with them for a long time.  That is something admirable - especially since J&J is a huge multinational company.

I am still concerned about the ingredients in my baby's toiletries and still keep an eye on the ingredients lists.  However, I appreciate that Johnson & Johnson took the time and effort to respond to the needs and concerns of their mom-consumers.  Kudos to the company!

*Thank you OC Mom in Manila for the notes ;)
*All photos courtesy of Next9.

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