Johnson & Johnson is indeed walking a “public relations tightrope” in pledging to remove all potentially harmful chemicals from its line of adult consumer products by the end of 2015, as Katie Thomas writes at the end of her report in the New York Times. It has also launched a website, Our Safety & Care Commitment, that states at the top: “You have our commitment that every beauty and baby care product from the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies is safe and effective when used as directed.”
One the one hand, J&J is consciously -- you might say self-consciously -- leading the industry in an increasingly contentious and visible area of consumer activism.
“There’s a public discussion underway about the ingredients in beauty care products, and we think it’s important to be part of that,” writes Susan Nettesheim, vp for product stewardship and toxicology for the company’s consumer health brands, on the new site. “Consumers today expect more information and greater transparency than ever before and we’re always listening to the people who use our products.”
"This is a good step in the right direction," responds Lisa Archer, national director of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "In terms of the cosmetic giants, Johnson & Johnson is going the furthest of any of them in removing chemicals of concern."
On the other hand, while it’s doing all this, J&J needs to reassure present customers that its existing products are safe, as Thomas points out. Then throw in the uncertainty about whether consumers will actually buy products that are better for them but may not be perceived as being as good as they once were. Packaged good manufacturers maintain, for example, that consumers may say they want processed foods with less salt but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy them.
“Consumer acceptance is really important,” Nettesheim tells Thomas. “It really doesn’t help you if you reformulate products and people don’t like it.”
In a release on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website, Archer calls on other “cosmetics giants -- Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever -- to meet or beat J&J’s commitments and signal they take consumer safety as seriously as their competitor.”
It also reveals that J&J had already informed the Campaign that it will “reformulate its hundreds of cosmetics and personal care products in all the markets it serves in 57 countries around the world” and “confirmed to the Campaign that it has set an internal target date of reformulating adult products by the end of 2015.” The release then provides a bullet-point list of what ingredients J&J will phase out completely, or reduce to safer levels.
It’s not often that you see that level of communication between companies and their vocal critics – “VICTORY! J&J Removing Toxics Globally!” reads the banner on the Campaign’s website -- but the relationship has evidently been building over time.
“Last year, J&J told the CSC it would remove formaldehyde-releasing ingredients from baby products,” writes Scott Hensley on NPR’s “Shots” health blog. “It also said it had already removed phthalates, potentially hazardous chemicals already banned in toys, from products for babies.”
J&J’s new Our Safety & Care Commitmentsite“will evolve and will be updated to incorporate consumer feedback, the latest science, new regulations and new information about J&J’s policies,” Drug Store News’ Antoinette Alexander reports. “The site contains information about its approach to research, the care it puts into the development of products for babies and toddlers, and its commitment to sustainability. Visitors to the site also will find information about such topics as the role of preservatives and fragrances.”
“Research by the Environmental Working Group found most cosmetic and personal care products -- other than those from small companies in the fast-growing natural products niche -- contain potentially dangerous chemicals,” reports the AP’s Linda A. Johnson. EWG maintains a Skin Deep database, which provides an online guide to the ingredients in more than 70,000 personal care products.
“Johnson & Johnson is a company that listens to its customers,” says EWG president and co-founder Ken Cook. “That’s always good business, and in this case it’s also good for public health and the environment.”
“Congrats to all involved and a big thanks to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for leading the charge on this campaign!” blogs Jenn Savedge on the Mother Nature Network.
Indeed, J&J should take a bow. And it might want to consult with Philippe Petit as it steps off the precarious ledge of consumer support.