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a serious question mark has been raised on the quality of baby products manufactured by multinational Johnson and Johnson (j&j). The Mumbai-based Food and Drug Administration (fda) has detected that the j&j baby oil has light liquid paraffin (mineral oil) as its base. Mineral oil cannot be absorbed by the skin and prevents it from breathing. It dehydrates the skin by dissolving its natural oil. It was also found that though j&j advertises the oil as being rich in vitamins, it actually contains negligible amounts of these.
The fda carried out the tests on receiving a complaint about a child developing rashes after using the oil. Under Section 17 (c) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, it has served a notice to the company for " misbranding" its baby products. j&j has to reply within 15 days. The matter will be referred to the drug controller general of India if the reply is not satisfactory.
The label of j&j baby oil bottle declares its ingredients in terms of vitamin content but does not mention the base: 99.785 per cent light liquid paraffin. On the other hand, the amounts of vitamin e and the mixture of vitamins a and d, which the label boasts of as the contents, have been found to be only 0.1 per cent each. The fda has also alleged that the company hasn't provided the clinical data to support its claim that its products help the growth of babies.
Following the notice, the company released a press statement to reassure Indian consumers that its products sold in India meet stringent quality standards, enforced globally. It claimed conducting over 200 safety tests on Indians. Asserting that it religiously follows all Indian regulatory guidelines, it pointed out that the products are manufactured and sold under licence from the fda. But C G Kurunkar, assistant commissioner, fda , Mumbai says: "We are not satisfied with the safety data j&j has provided."
At the centre of the crisis is the lack of standards for cosmetics in India. The Bureau of Indian Standards (bis), which is responsible for formulating these, only has norms for talcum powder for babies. "There are stricter standards for fineness of the talc and its p h and microbiological profile," says a bis official. For all other products, the bis just has a list of chemicals that cannot be used in cosmetics. Liquid paraffin is not a part of the list.
Skin experts say baby products often cause skin problems. "No special treatment is required for babies' skin. Whatever the skin needs, it produces on its own," reveals K K Verma, additional professor, department of dermatology and venereology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.
fda's findings fall in line with those of a 2004 study by Environmental Working Group, a us- based non-profit group. The study rated some 7,500 products on a scale of one to 10, in ascending order of ability to harm. One of j&j's baby oils was rated 7. 3; it contained impurities and penetration enhancers that increase the risk of diseases like cancer. How safe are Johnson and Johnson's baby products? It also had five unstudied chemicals, including mineral oil, on which little safety data existed.