Thursday, December 8, 2011

No More Tears? Johnson & Johnson Hears a Cry

Johnson and Johnson lavender baby shampoo smells pure in my daughter's hair. The bottle says the scent will soothe her to sleep, plus the company's slogan is "No More Tears." Smells good? My baby won't cry? It'll help her sleep? That's a trifecta few mothers could resist. But my pediatrician told me that J&J, the company beloved for baby products, actually puts poison in its suds.

I wondered if she was just being hippie dippy, then I went online. What I found taught me an old lesson again: Trust your doctor. Activists have been pressuring the health care manufacturing giant since May 2009 to remove cancer-causing chemicals from its iconic baby shampoo.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an international coalition of consumer and environmental groups, finally made -- pardon the pun -- headway. J&J has agreed to change the formula of its shampoo by removing the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane and quaternium-15, a compound that releases the chemical preservative formaldehyde.

All of this comes on the heels of more than 25 recalls from Johnson & Johnson over the past two years. Problems have ranged from glass shards in medicine to nauseating odors in product bottles and painful, defective hip implants.

J&J is wise to take proactive measures and publicize them, says Manhattan public relations executive Eleanor Lapman. "Here's a company whose name was once synonymous with precious safety -- baby products and band-aids are their bread and butter." Facing a PR disaster, the company now has a window of opportunity to be proactive, address the problems honestly, and receive some positive attention.

"They left themselves open to law suits with so many product recalls," says Daniel R. Rosen, a personal injury lawyer in Denver. "But this is a case of consumer activism done right. J&J received scores of letters from customers around the world, threatening to boycott its products. Now the company is taking measures to restore its once sterling reputation and keep consumers safe."

All of this has caused me to reevaluate my brand loyalty. When it comes to my baby, I don't cut corners. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that I'll continue to use Johnson & Johnson baby products. Am I willing to pay a little more for organic products if I believe they are safer for my child? Of course I am. I once trusted the J&J brand implicitly, but now I feel duped. Sure, they changed their formula to save their bottom line and their image, but I take little comfort in that. I'm glad they heard the cry of concerned activists, for whom I am increasingly grateful, but, for me, it's too late.

Pari Chang is a lawyer and professional journalist for SixEstate. She is the lead writer for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, Glamour, SELF, and many other renowned publications.