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April 06, 2009

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble as mom's create their own tipping point for change

Ducks When you start asking moms to promote products that other moms and organizations find troubling and maybe even toxic, you can expect a backlash of conversation.

That's what happened in April, 2009 when Johnson and Johnson launched a contest Big Bubbin Stars, with the best video of kids having fun in a bubble bath. The winner gets $10,000.  You didn't have to buy the J&J products and yet, wouldn't you? It's $10,000 afterall, and it seems fun and safe enough.

The troubling part for many moms was that it promoted the use of products that contained dubious chemistry that over time can build up in little bodies soaking in it. The launch of Bubblin Stars also coincided with a report from the Safe Cosmetics organization titled "No More Toxic Tub". In the bubble bath case, the moms were specifically questioning the use of products containing 1,4-dioxain and formaldehyde.

What's the big deal? It's not just in J&J products according to a report on a site focused on reducing breast cancer.

Laboratory tests released today revealed the presence of 1,4-Dioxane in products such as Hello Kitty Bubble Bath, Huggies Baby Wash, Johnson’s Baby Wash, Scooby-Doo Bubble Bath and Sesame Street Bubble Bath. The tests also found the carcinogen in Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo, Olay Complete Body Wash and many other personal care products.

1,4-Dioxane is a petroleum-derived contaminant considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a clear-cut animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. It is also on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or birth defects. Because it is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, the FDA does not require it to be listed as an ingredient on product labels.

So what did these concerned moms do?

Green mom carnival Within 2 days, they mobilized, conducted research, wrote blogs and posted their own spoof of a contest. Sommer Poquette also hosted and posted a mini carnival of concerns on her Clean and Green Mom blog.

Then See Jane Do, an online radio program got wind of it and asked Lynn Miller, Lisa Frack and Jennifer Taggert to join a discussion along with another prominent mom activist Joan Blades of Mom's Rising. Lynn Miller is a marketer and founder of the blog Organic Mania and the Green Moms Carnival. Lisa Frack is the online parent coordinator for the Environmental Working Group and Jennifer Taggert, is a lawyer, engineer and author of The Smart Mama, a blog promoting a toxic-free life for our kids. She also wrote the Smart Mama's Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child's Toxic Chemical Exposure.  

The Green Mom Carnival crowd isn't the only concerned group, in a newsletter the same week the Eco Mom Alliance announced their partnership with the Seventh Generation and EWG to provide product samples and education on how to reduce your exposure to bad chemistry.

 Remember, the issue is long term build up, not one-off exposure. Jennifer Taggert recapped it well on a follow up post here. She was justifiably irked that moms are looked upon as crazy for caring. She also noted in background research report she prepared for the green carnival group that the EU has already not allowing dioxane.

If the EU has disallowed it, what is happening in the US? We asked the two popular potions standards to comment. Eco Logo and Green Seal which are both coming out with new personal care standards this spring. Cheryl Baldwin, PhD and VP of Science and Standards at Green Seal said, "We have a new standard that will be released soon (any day now) that covers soaps, cleansers, shampoos, and other rinse-off products (GS-44).  It prohibits the use of the components that are the sources of the chemicals found by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (.e.g 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde).The SMaRT Standard also won't certify any product that has the Stockholm "Dirty Dozen"chemicals which include dioxanes.

After first being ignored or sent to underlings with no knowledge of the subject, Johnson and Johnson provided a statement to Jenn Savedge of the Green Parent.

"The trace levels of certain compounds found by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics can result from processes that make our products gentle for babies and safe from bacteria growth. The FDA and other government agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe, and all our products meet or exceed the regulatory requirements in every country where they are sold. Experts such as MDs, toxicologists and clinical scientists regularly review the safety data for all ingredients used in our products. In addition, we test our final baby product formulations for safety. Once our products are in the marketplace, we continually monitor consumer experiences and review evolving scientific data.

The mom's aren't buying it - literally. If they have a choice (and they do) they're going to buy products that are erring on the side of NO 1,4-dioxane no matter how "trace" it is and they are encouraging others to do the same.

From Sommer Poquette's Carnival of Concerned Moms:

1. Sign the Declarationand tell your friends to sign the deleration to get the Kids Safe Chemical Act passed.

2. Write your legislator, as the Mindful Momma suggests.

3. Use safer products by using the Skin Deep Data Baseand tell companies, such as Johnson and Johnsonand the others listed on the reportwhat you want as consumers.  Check out the Safe Mamaand her hundreds of reviews and cheat sheets for safe baby care products and Healthy Child Healthy Worldfor suggestions and tips. For reviews of products I have tried view my green cleaning category.

4. Promote this post anyway you can to get the word out there. #NoToxins to follow the Green Mom’s Carnival on Twitter!

5. Send any bottles back to the manufacture that aren’t used or half used but stop using them and demand for safer ingredients and full disclosure!

Lessons learned for companies selling personal care products:

1. Don't ignor women bloggers who are concerned enough to call. Bad idea.It really ticks them off.

2. The standards for what is safe or not have changed, update your product line to get in line with world expectations. (If Detroit can drop Hummers, you can drop dioxanes.)

3. Mommy blogger's all know one another. If you don't think they are comparing notes with each other - think again!

photo credit: Krikit



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Fascinating Mary. I like how you pulled this together. I will add it to the carnival. The information on the seal and certification is great to have.

Hi Mary,

Thanks so much for writing this post and for providing us with such timely information about the new SmaRT standard.

I also think you've given marketers some good insights into bloggers in your "Lessons Learned."

I'd add that green bloggers in particular don't always self-identify as "Mommy bloggers." I typically identify myself as a green blogger. And a number of my readers are male.

Just one point of clarification: SeeJaneDo had requested an interview with me months before this controversy came up, not because of this controversy. I invited Lisa and Jennifer to join me in the interview because I felt they would provide some interesting context to what the Green Moms Carnival is doing. When Sommer proposed the "emergency carnival," I suggested doing it on Wednesday so that when the interview aired, we could talk about this outreach initiative as an example of our work.


Mary, this is a really great summary. I appreciate the information on standards and the list of what readers can do to get involved. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

Thanks for the clarification Lynn.

Great post Mary, no wonder why 70% of all women feel that companies don't "get them." J&J's response is like, "We know you're not happy with us but let us tell you why we don't care. Our scientific data shows that your concerns as a mother, are irrelevant.

Mary, great post. I love the reference to the hummer! Isn't marketing about listening to your consumers?

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