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A PR Crisis? Johnson & Johnson Removes Harmful Chemicals From Products

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With the tag line, “No More Tears” on your products, consumers tend to foster a certain level of customer trust that your products are safe to use on the whole family.  Unfortunately for Johnson & Johnson, one of the leading family care brands in the world, this hasn’t always been the case.

In 2009, the coalition group, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, conducted a study on a wide array of personal care products and the results were quite shocking; a number of Johnson & Johnson products contained now identified carcinogens such as formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane. The ‘trick’ of sorts is that these (and other) harmful chemicals weren’t listed on the ingredient labels! Why? Because ‘technically’ they weren’t ingredients, just by-products of the preservatives breaking down as the products aged.

After the discovery, the real work and PR balancing act began for Johnson & Johnson as they strived to reformulate their products while assuring their millions of users that while they’re doing this, their current products are still safe. Susan Nettesheim, VP of product stewardship & toxicology for Johnson & Johonson commented on the situation by saying, “Even though as a scientist I will sit here and tell you these things are perfectly safe,” consumers are worried about reports that call these conclusions into question, “I understand that and we can’t ignore that.”

So the company set to work reformulating their beloved products, some of which have been on the market for 50 years. The first wave of reformulation included all of their baby products and was promised for completion in 2013. The company delivered on their promise and earlier this month were presented with a collection of 30,000 names from consumers giving thanks to the corporation for their efforts in product safety. Johnson & Johnson also launched a new website outlining their commitment to safety.

The next step for Johnson & Johnson is their adult personal care brands including Neutrogena, Aveeno and Clean & Clear. They are striving to remove all triclosan and phthalates from these products by 2015 but will continue using 3 parabens and in exceptional cases, Formaldehyde where there is no other preservative option. From now on though the company has agreed to complete transparency when it comes to product ingredients. Company spokesperson Samantha Lucas stated, “We’re committed to absolute transparency about what’s in the product, and what’s on the label. We’re very involved in the complete supply chain, including holding our suppliers and our raw materials providers to our high standards.”

The efforts of Johnson & Johnson aren’t passing unnoticed by environmental/consumer groups either, Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group praises the company, “We’ve never really seen a major personal care product company take the kind of move that they’re taking with this… Not really even anything in the ballpark.”

What do you think? Is this a PR win for Johnson & Johnson, or is it too little too late?


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