A Data-Driven Investigation into the Health Risks Associated with Everyday Personal Care Products


  • Author: Lillian Pierson P.E.
  • Date: 29 Jul 2016

Several weeks back, I noticed an article online that was titled “Johnson & Johnson Finally Admits: Our Baby Products Contain Cancer-Causing Ingredients”. Appalled, aghast, and admittedly skeptical, I decided to investigate further. This article details the findings of that investigation.

Do some Johnson & Johnson baby products contain ingredients that cause cancer?


• BUT, so do many, if not most, sunscreens, shampoos, lotions, and baby lotions. You are still alive, and these compounds have been present your entire life. We’ve all been living with them, and there is no demonstrable way to prove how many actual cancer cases have been caused by particular exposures, if they were actually caused by a chemical exposure at all.

• BUT, so does, at times, the water you drink and the air you breathe. In fact, at times the water you drink and the air you breathe could expose you to much, much larger doses than any personal care product would. For example, the article focused on 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. Taken to the extreme, these compounds have been proven to cause mucus membrane irritation, skin irritation, and sometimes even cancer. As awful as that sounds, what the article does not explain is that:

o A typical exposure from the use of a personal care product has a safety margin of 6,000 to 1,000,000 (Source 5). So, doing the math, in one day, a typical dermal exposure to a personal care product could be equated to somewhere between 1 lb and 167 lbs, but the dermal exposure safety limit for 1,4-dioxane would be 1,000,000 lbs! Obviously, the risks involved in dermally applying personal care products are not significant, if they exist at all.

o 1,4-dioxane is also found in drinking water, tap water, and groundwater. Concentrations in some Japanese drinking water sources have been measured at 1.5 ug/L and Japanese groundwater was documented to contain up to 79 ug/L. (Source 4). When it comes to ingestion of 1,4-dioxane, the threshold for the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL), as established by the Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch of the OEHHA is 30 ug/day. This means that if you boiled 16 ounces of this groundwater and used it to make your morning coffee, by drinking that you would be beyond the safety limit as established by the OEHHA! In other words, what the article does not tell you is that you’d have to use 6,000 dermal applications of normal, 1,4-dioxane-containing personal care products in a day to get to an equivalent level of risk as drinking two 8-ounce cups of coffee made from groundwater in some parts of Japan.

thumbnail image: A Data-Driven Investigation into the Health Risks Associated with Everyday Personal Care Products

What the article does not provide is any point of reference for these ubiquitous chemicals and the exposure levels at which we experience them on a routine basis. Just saying that a chemical is present is wholly inadequate as a means by which to establish a basis for the level of concern a prudent person should have regarding that fact.

What people need to understand is that the “dose makes the poison”. This principle basically says that you can be exposed to harmful chemicals, but if the exposure is so infinitesimally small, then it’s very unlikely for you to experience any adverse effect. I would also add; The exposure route determines the toxicity!

The dose makes the poison; The exposure route determines the toxicity.

What other common products or compounds contain these cancer-causing compounds?

Carcinogens and suspected carcinogens are everywhere. Sometimes even in the air you breathe. The referenced article focuses on formaldehyde gas in addition to 1,4-dioxane, so let’s look at that. Although the article tells readers that some Johnson & Johnson baby products contain ingredients that emit formaldehyde gas, the article does not mention that you would need to give your baby 40,000,000 baths in a single day to reach the safety limit threshold. (Source 7) It also does not mention that, if you’re a smoker and you sit next to your baby while you smoke, the baby’s formaldehyde exposure would surpass the defined safety threshold of 40 ug/day after smoking just 4 cigarettes.

By smoking just one cigarette, you expose yourself to almost the same amount of formaldehyde gas as you would by taking 80,000,000 baths in a single day using personal care products like Johnsons & Johnsons. Looking at exposure levels in relative perspective, it’s safe to say that these claims and concerns about 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde in soap and shampoo are gross distortions of the truth. Yes, in some formulas, small amounts of these chemicals are present, but is that reason to fear you’re going to get cancer from washing your skin or your hair with them? Any person with sound thinking and reasonable judgement would not jump to that conclusion.

What other substances are there that I need to know about?

So far, we’ve discussed 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. These are just two chemicals that we are routinely exposed to on a daily basis. But, there are hundreds, if not thousands, more out there. One contaminant that was not discussed by the referenced article is nonylphenol, an endocrine mimicking compound. Nonylphenol is found in cleaners, detergents, plastics, cosmetics, food packaging, and other everyday products. Once the nonylphenols are absorbed by humans they accumulate and are released in bodily fluids like breastmilk.

For some reason nonylphenol was not mentioned in the article, and I wonder why? Breastfed babies are being exposed to this contaminant through the milk their mother’s bodies produce for them. In fact, average breastmilk contains 56 times more nonylphenol than Vitamin B-12 (Source 8, 9). And what are the harms that can come from this?? Low fertility, endometriosis, increased cancer risks, adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects, just to name a few. But for some reason you don’t see nature-activists scolding mothers for not breastfeeding. Au contraire.

So why do activists and anti-chemical extremists report facts in these out-of-proportion ways as the article “Johnson & Johnson Finally Admits: Our Baby Products Contain Cancer-Causing Ingredients”? Maybe they are misinformed? Maybe they have some way of profiting off of it? Or, maybe they are just trying to vilify major corporations like Johnson & Johnson? While there are plenty of major corporations out there that are doing immense and irreparable harm to the environmental health and safety of people and the planet, I am not sure what that has to do with Johnson’s baby shampoo, or similar personal hygiene products. I don’t know why some people and organizations insist on fear-mongering over issues that aren’t really there, but then remain totally silent on the larger, more obvious risks… But one thing I do know is that, many people who read articles like “Johnson & Johnson Finally Admits: Our Baby Products Contain Cancer-Causing Ingredients” are unwittingly and adversely affected by what they are misled to believe.

WARNING: This article is not intended to be used as any sort of medical or dietary advice. It is for informational purposes only.


(1) Public Health Statement for 1,4 Dioxane. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. April, 2012.
(2) 23 Sources of Formaldehyde to Remove from Your Home, Starting Right Now. Branch Basics Website. 17 April, 2015.
(3) Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates. Toxipedia Website. 01 Nov, 2011.
(4) 1,4-Dioxane in Drinking-water. World Health Organization. 2005.
(5) Environmental Investigation and Remediation: 1,4 Dioxane and Other Solvent Stabilizers. CRC Press. 2010.
(6) Formaldehyde exposures from tobacco smoke: a review. National Institute of Health Website. Aug 1989.
(7) No More Formaldehyde Baby Shampoo. Slate Website. 03 Mar, 2014.
(8) Mother’s Milk: Breast Feeding. Department of Pediatrics SVBP Hospital. 25 Sept, 2014.
(9) Advances in Molecular Toxicology, Volume 9. Academic Press. 2015.

Related Topics

Related Publications

Related Content

Site Footer


This website is provided by John Wiley & Sons Limited, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 8SQ (Company No: 00641132, VAT No: 376766987)

Published features on StatisticsViews.com are checked for statistical accuracy by a panel from the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS)   to whom Wiley and StatisticsViews.com express their gratitude. This panel are: Ron Kenett, David Steinberg, Shirley Coleman, Irena Ograjenšek, Fabrizio Ruggeri, Rainer Göb, Philippe Castagliola, Xavier Tort-Martorell, Bart De Ketelaere, Antonio Pievatolo, Martina Vandebroek, Lance Mitchell, Gilbert Saporta, Helmut Waldl and Stelios Psarakis.