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Children's Bath Products Contain Contaminants

Report says they aren't listed on labels; manufacturers say products are safe

THURSDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Many baby and child-care products contain the chemicals formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, both of which have been linked to cancer and various skin conditions, a new report contends.

But the chemicals aren't listed on the labels of bubble bath, shampoo and other common products, according to the report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Use.

"Companies can obviously do better, and we need to demand that they do better," said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Use and co-author of the report, released Thursday. "Many companies are already making great products that don't have any of these chemicals [and] many companies in the natural products industry have reformulated to get rid of that problem. We also know many companies are using preservatives that don't use formaldehyde."

According to the authors, the report, called No More Toxic Tub, is the first to document contamination of children's products with these chemicals. The Environmental Working Group was involved in the analyses.

Both formaldehyde and dioxane are considered "contaminants," Malkan said.

A contaminant "is a chemical that is not intentionally added to the product but is a byproduct," she said. "Those are all exempt from labeling laws ... Companies don't even have to know themselves."

Dioxane is a byproduct of chemical processing and formaldehyde is released from some of the chemicals that are used as preservatives, Malkan said.

John Bailey is chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry. Responding to the report, he said, "These are issues that have been around for many, many years, so it's not new news. The thing that impressed me was the low levels of dioxane that were found in these products, which indicates to me that the industry is doing its job in keeping this potential contaminant down to a low level."

Bailey also said there were wasn't enough information in the report to gauge how accurate the determinations of formaldehyde levels were.

Malkan and her co-authors tested 48 bubble baths, shampoos and other baby and children's products for dioxane and 28 of those products for formaldehyde.

Among their findings:

  • Almost two-thirds of the 28 products contained both chemicals, including Johnson's Baby Shampoo and Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea Baby Wash.
  • Eighty-two percent of products tested contained formaldehyde; the highest levels were found in Baby Magic Baby Lotion.
  • American Girl shower products had the highest levels of dioxane among products tested.

"The good news is that there are great products without any of these chemicals," Malkan said. "The challenge is you have to do some research to find them. It's not a simple matter of looking at the label."

According to Malkan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture "organic seal" indicates that none of these chemicals are present.

"The best advice for consumers is that simple is better, products with fewer ingredients overall," she said. "There are things consumers can do to make better choices at the store but we also need to change regulations and require companies to list all ingredients in the products and to make the safest products they can, especially products for babies."

Harmful chemicals and contaminants in children's products is a subject of continuing controversy. Earlier this week, it was announced that baby bottles made with the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA) will no longer be sold in the United States by the six largest manufacturers of the products.

BPA, which is found in a wide range of products, mimics the hormone estrogen and may disrupt the body's endocrine system. The chemical poses a particular threat to fetuses, infants and children because it can interfere with cell function when their bodies are still developing, public health experts say. The chemical has been linked with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and developmental delays in children.

More information

Get more information on what's in a product, or information on products containing no chemicals at all, at the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database.

SOURCES: Stacy Malkan, co-founder and spokeswoman, Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Use; John Bailey, Ph.D., chief scientist, Personal Care Products Council, Washington, D.C.; March 12, 2009, No More Toxic Tub

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