The first house I lived in was… lets say, less than ideal. I came to start living in an apartment above a bar in Kensington Market (also, less than ideal, but sadly still better). I was paying very little rent for Toronto standards, but I was also working a minimum wage job in a Pie shop. Even at full-time hours I was barely scraping by. Due to stress and environmental changes, I started getting acne again and had a bad case of itchy scalp. I couldn’t afford the fancy Clinique and Body Shop beauty care products I’d been so faithful to anymore, so I started to research at-home remedies I could use instead.
At the time Tracey was actually a friend of mine on Facebook (a mutual friend had connected us when I was looking for non-hormonal contraceptive devices). I hadn’t spoken to her much since I’d ended my relationship at the time, but found her again when I searched for Toronto-based cosmetic makers. Given my financial situation at the time, we’d worked out a barter-and-trade agreement: I would help her around her clinic and earn a certain number of workshop hours.
I hadn’t intended to become a product maker or an aromatherapist, but the more I learned the more I wanted to know. I couldn’t believe that our government and regulatory bodies were failing us so exquisitely when it came to food and safety regulations. They seemed to have everything ass backwards! The rules clearly protected big corporations’ rights to use almost any ingredients they wished to ensure large profit margins despite the evidence of concerning health risks. On the other hand, small business owners were receiving cease and desist letters for using patented plant-based ingredients (someone please explain to me how this is legal), such as Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil. What the hell is that?
I now work as a Doula with the Sisterhood Wellness Collective, and several of my friends and family have had their first child or are expecting their first child. Naturally, I ask permission to pick through all their baby-care products and then ask if I am allowed to go all self-righteously judgmental on them (the products, not my friends). My one friend replied, “just… take it easy, but sure.”
I had always assumed that if it was made for a baby, surely it’s a gentle and hyper-safe product. I was deeply disheartened to discover the harsh reality. The first thing I picked up was a tiny bottle of Baby Shampoo by Johnson & Johnson. I opened the bottle to smell the signature Johnson scent. Sweet, light, soapy… seems harmless enough. Then I went home and did some research.
“The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action.
We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.”
One of my favourite things about this website is not only is there a huge database on products and their safety ratings, but you can also look-up individual ingredients and their safety ratings. How it works is each product or ingredient is given a safety rating number from 1-10. There’s a low-hazard (1-2), medium-hazard (3-6), high-hazard (7-10) score, as well as a rating regarding the extent of research available on any given product/ingredient.
So I went to town on Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo and here’s what I found:
Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo ($2.49 at walmart.ca, for 444ml)
Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Medium score of 4) - skin irritant, data good
PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate (Medium score of 5) - skin irritant strong data, data fair
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate (Low score of 1) - data NONE
PEG-150 Distearate (Medium score of 3) - contamination concerns with highly hazardous chemicals, data NONE
Phenoxyethanol (Medium score of 4) - organ toxicity when product used around the mouth, data limited
Sodium Chloride (Low score of 1) - data robust
Glycerin (Low score of 2) - data good
Citric Acid (Low score of 1) - data fair
Sodium Benzoate (Medium score of 3) limited use/amounts, data fair
Tetrasodium EDTA (Low score of 2) - data fair
Polyquaternium-10 (Low score of 1) - data limited
Ethylhexylglycerin (Low score of 1) - Europe classified as skin/eye/lung irritant, data limited
Sodium Hydroxide (Medium score of 3) - organ toxicity, data fair
Potassium Acrylates Copolymer (no data)
Yellow 10 (Low score of 1) - no data
Yellow 10 (Medium score of 1-3) - eye irritant, data limited
Parfum, Fragrance (High score of 8) - skin irritant, data fair
As you can see there’s a pretty good mix of “safe” ingredients, as well as some moderately-hazardous ingredients. I initially looked up an older formulation of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo and there were significantly more high-hazard ingredients including those that specifically irritate the eyes (ironically in their no-tear formula!) The highest hazard (Parfum, or fragrance) has been pushed to the bottom of the list, which is nice I guess, but it’s still there. So, they’ve improvedish… joy. Someone give them a cookie.
But take a closer look. The low-hazard ingredients are further down the list, and some of them have no data or limited data to support their safety use. While almost all the ingredients that are moderately hazardous are at the top of the list (save water). Why does this matter? The higher on the list, the more of that ingredient is present in the product relative to the other ingredients. Therefore, this product is made-up of mostly moderately-hazardous ingredients. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my adult body I don’t love the idea of using moderately-hazardous materials, so I especially don’t love the sounds of it when I think about an infants body.
Lets look at Liquid Organic Castile Soap Base sold at Anarres Natural Health.
Liquid Organic Castile Soap Base ($1.31 per 100ml, $5.25 per 400ml)
Potassium Oleate derived from Organic Sunflower Oil (Low score of 2) - data limited
Potassium Cocoate derived from Organic Coconut Oil (Low score of 1) - data fair
Glycerin, Organic (Low score of 2) - data good
Potassium Citrate (Low score of 1) - data limited
Potassium Palm Kernelate (no data)
Palm Kernel Acid (no data)
The main critique for this soap could be that the data is limited or non-existent, but so far so good! Not even a moderate-hazard in sight. Also, the price point is technically double that of Johnson & Johnson, but that’s under $3 extra and you don’t need very much of it at all to go a long way, especially for a baby. Not to mention, this soap can be used as shampoo, body wash, and hand soap.
Lets look at another household staple made by Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil ($2.94 at walmart.ca for 414ml or )
Mineral Oil (Medium score of 1-3) strong evidence for human immune and respiratory toxicant or allergen, data fair
Parfum, Fragrance (High score of 8) - skin irritant, data fair
Jesus! How is this a household staple?! Especially when the benefits are listed as basically skin moisturizing. Did you know that any vegetable-based, or nut-based oil can be used for all the same benefits, and MORE? For example, coconut oil is also anti-fungal. Olive oil is skin rejuvenating. Sunflower seed oil is high in vitamins A, B, and D. Why would you waste your money on a product that even has a SLIGHT toxic effect on the respiratory and immune system? It doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention, a skin moisturizer that includes one of the strongest skin irritants in the cosmetic industry: fragrance. Using butter right out of your fridge to slather all over your baby would be safer and more beneficial than Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Oil.
It’s offensive and ridiculous that we cannot trust the makers of our products, especially when those products are specifically made for body care. The good news is you have other options and they’re affordable and simple. Many of them are probably already in your kitchen cupboard.
- Tynan Rhea, Doula at Sisterhood Wellness Collective.
Tynan Rhea received her education from the University of Waterloo in Psychology and Sexuality, Marriage, & Family. She currently works closely with and studies under Tracey Tief, certified Natural Health Practitioner at Anarres Apothecary and as a Doula with the Sisterhood Wellness Collective for the GTA area.