By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A coalition of health campaigners on Tuesday urged consumers not to buy a baby shampoo made by Johnson & Johnson until the company stops using a preservative considered by the U.S. government to be a possible trigger for some cancers and skin allergies.
Responding to the report, Johnson & Johnson said it has been working on phasing out formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from its baby products since 2009, when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics first raised its concerns with the company about its baby shampoo.
"We know that some consumers are concerned about formaldehyde," the company said in a statement, "which is why we offer many products without formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and are phasing out these types of preservatives in our baby products worldwide."
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said in a report that the health care company uses the preservative quaternium-15 in the Johnson's Baby Shampoo line sold in the United States and elsewhere.
Quaternium-15 is added to many cosmetic products to prevent spoiling and contamination, and the preservative works by releasing formaldehyde to kill bacteria.
The U.S. Department of Health said formaldehyde is known to cause cancer, although exposure to it is difficult to avoid as it is widely used in some form in consumer products and traces of it are found in the air, particularly inside the home.
Repeated exposure also can increase the risk of a person developing allergic skin reactions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
There are no restrictions on the use of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics.
"Clearly there is no need for Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to a known carcinogen when the company is already making safer alternatives," Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, said in a statement.
The Campaign said the company is already making formaldehyde-free baby shampoo for sale in Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, among other countries.
"All babies deserve safer products," Archer said.
Since the Campaign first raised its concerns, Johnson & Johnson has released a new line in the United States called Johnson's Naturals, which does not contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
The company said it also is working to eliminate 1,4-dioxane, a contaminant also thought to be carcinogenic that is commonly found in shampoos and other cosmetics, from its products. The company said it has already reformulated 70 percent of its baby product lines to achieve this goal.
Still, Johnson & Johnson said its current formulations were safe and met or exceeded safety regulations in every market where they are sold.
Stacy Malkan, the author of the Campaign's report, said she welcomed Johnson & Johnson's commitment.
"We're really pleased to see them make a public stand, but we feel they need put a timeline to it," she said.
A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson said it was not possible to say when its baby product lines would be entirely formaldehyde-free.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics describes itself as a coalition of more than 150 nonprofit organizations, including Clean Water Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)