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Consumer product additives examined

Transparency and innovation motivate initiatives at SC Johnson and Environmental Defense Fund

by Marc S. Reisch
June 5, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 23

Consumer products maker SC Johnson and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an advocacy group, have separately undertaken initiatives seeking to limit consumer exposure to potentially harmful additives in consumer products.


Among the 368 potential skin allergens that SC Johnson says may be in its household cleaning products are

▸ Ammonium persulfate
▸ Cinnamon leaf oil
▸ Formaldehyde
▸ Hibiscus abelmoschus seed oil
▸ Menthol
▸ Methylchloroisothiazolinone
▸ Pepper oil
▸ Rosewood oil
▸ Toluene diisocyanate
▸ Turpentine

SC Johnson, the maker of cleaners such as Fantastik and Scrubbing Bubbles, has disclosed on its website 368 potential skin allergens that may be present in its products. By 2018, the website,, will also list which skin allergens are contained in specific products.

All cleaning products contain potential allergens, the company says. But to reduce the likelihood that sensitive individuals could develop skin redness or a rash, the firm decided to “give families the whole story.”

The list, which an expert panel reviewed, includes both natural and synthetic skin allergens. “In many cases, naturals can have more skin allergens than synthetics,” SC Johnson says. In 2015, the firm revealed fragrances found in its products to allay toxicity fears.

Consumer product firms are being pushed to better disclose ingredients in household and personal care products. Retailers Target and Walmart, for instance, have pressured suppliers on ingredient transparency and insisted that many products be reformulated to remove problematic preservatives such as parabens and formaldehyde donors.

EDF reviewed 16 widely used cosmetic preservatives and concluded that half are skin sensitizers, 11 can cause eye irritation, and 12 are toxic to aquatic organisms. Preservatives it studied include benzyl alcohol, caprylyl glycol, methyl­isothiazolinone, and propylparaben.

The group’s report, “Smart Innovation: The Opportunity for Safer Preservatives,” calls for the development of preservatives with reduced impact on human health and the environment. “Too few [companies] strive towards innovation that is safer for people and the planet,” the group says.

EDF is also calling for the creation of an independent chemical assessment clearinghouse “that would provide comprehensive, structured, transparent, and comparable health and safety assessments of chemicals in a centralized, web-accessible reposi­tory.”



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