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Israelis need not worry about warnings in the US regarding traces of probable carcinogens in "more than half the baby shampoo, lotion and other infant care products" analyzed by an American health advocacy group, because the products it tested are not sold here, the Health Ministry said Sunday.
The group, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, reported that Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo and Baby Magic lotion and other products tested positive for 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde.
The Washington Post quoted the advocacy group on Sunday as saying that the chemicals, which the US Environmental Protection Agency has described as probable agents that cause cancer, are not intentionally added to the products and are not listed among ingredients on labels.
"Instead, they appear to be byproducts of the manufacturing process," maintained Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Formaldehyde is created when other chemicals in the product break down over time, while 1,4-dioxane is formed when foaming agents are combined with ethylene oxide or similar petrochemicals.
The ministry in Jerusalem said that formaldehyde is not found in the three types of Johnson & Johnson shampoos (No-Tears Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo; baby shampoo with lavender; and baby shampoo that eliminates knots in the hair) that are sold in Israel, nor are the other products mentioned in the Washington Post report sold here, the ministry said.
As for dioxane, it is listed here as a product forbidden for sale in cosmetics and thus is not marketed here in shampoos.
Formaldehyde, said the ministry, can be used a preservative in Israel up to a certain concentration, in accordance with standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration, the European food and drug authorities and the ministry.
It may be found in concentrations of up to 0.1 percent in oral hygiene products, 0.2% in aerosols and 5% in nail hardeners. The ministry licenses products according to the manufacturers' declarations, it said.
The US advocacy organization tested 48 baby bath products such as bubble bath and shampoo. Of those, 32 contained trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane and 23 contained small amounts of formaldehyde, it said. Seventeen tested positive for both chemicals.
"Our intention is not to alarm parents, but to inform parents that products that claim to be gentle and pure are contaminated with carcinogens, which is completely unnecessary," Stacy Malkan, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told the Washington Post.
The advocacy group is demanding that the US government regulate personal care products such as shampoo, lotion and makeup more strictly.
Johnson & Johnson commented that "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."
The European Union has banned 1,4-dioxane as an ingredient in personal care products, but the FDA has not established a safe limit for the chemical in shampoo, lotion and other toiletries, the Washington Post said.
"It maintains that the trace amounts found in those products are not harmful."
But health advocates argue that US federal regulators have ignored the cumulative effect of chemicals in personal care products.
Malkan stressed that the carcinogen levels "are relatively low, and the industry often says there's just a little bit of carcinogen in my product.
"The problem is, we're finding a little bit of carcinogen in many products.
Many of these products are used every day, so we've got repeated and frequent exposure to these low levels of chemicals. They're not the safest and purest products, and parents ought to know that."
In addition, she said, "government studies have not examined the effect of chemical exposure on the particular vulnerabilities of infants and children, whose bodies are still developing."
Several US senators are considering legislation that would supervise the industry more strictly.