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“Wellness” versus “Science” and How I Feel About It


*This post was in partnership with JOHNSON’S® but all those words are my own.*

We live in a very tricky time for parenting (said every parent, ever). It’s no longer about getting sleep advice or no-fail recipes from the other parents at soccer games. It’s a daily blizzard of information, options, ideas, and products via the interweb, news, and social media. Some of the information and products are great and will hopefully lead to our kids being safer, healthier, happier, and perhaps more mentally sound than we are (ha, have you ever been on the internet?). But there is also this ambient fear-based pressure to have the best-of-the-organic-best for our kids, no matter what it costs! We are surrounded by expensive farm-raised doughnuts (with vegan sprinkles!), sugar-free, gluten-free hand sanitizers, and hydroponically farmed, vegan, non-gmo, vegetables . . . vegan vegetables! I’m joking, but it’s not always funny.

As a mom, I certainly want what is the healthiest and safest for my kids (and I know all of you who care for children do, too). Which is why it’s so easy to get wrapped up in this “high-end-organic everything-lifestyle” (keep reading for some of my own examples). And don’t get me wrong – Brian and I really try to reduce processed foods, we shop more from local farms and stores to support small businesses, and have reduced our non-local meat consumption by a lot because we don’t want to support the corporate meat industry. We are doing our best to be what in our opinion is “organic,” but this problem is way bigger than the obvious and I’m starting to get really bummed about the trend of marketing to women, specifically moms.

When JOHNSON’S® reached out to partner on this post my immediate thought was, “Oh dear. Nope, nope, nope. I smell a backlash . . . besides, haven’t I read negative things about their products?” But I read the pitch, and their messaging was compelling and their story was refreshing. They didn’t ask me to tell you to use their product, but instead to help empower you to make your own decisions about what’s best for you and your baby, feel more confident in those decisions, and unveil a few truths and misconceptions out there about them. After days of research, and working through feelings of my own fear-based chem-phobia, I learned a lot and happily agreed to do this post. I also agreed because the broader topic is something that I’ve wanted to write about for some time.

Before you think I’ve drunk some sort of baby-wash-kool-aid, I haven’t. I would never, and will never, recommend anything to you (especially your babies) that is knowingly unsafe – which is the point.

Don’t worry, I read the news too, and I also heard about how there were consumer concerns about some of the ingredients in their American baby products. But as I did research (and read this super informative New York Times article about it) I learned a few things about what the drama was really about, and more importantly what they did about it.

First off, despite what I imagined, there was no evil scientist with a huge dropper of formaldehyde maniacally sneaking it into any baby shampoo. I didn’t know this but formaldehyde is a by-product released over time from two preservatives: quaternium-15 and 1,4-dioxane. They are meant to give the product shelf-life, so the product doesn’t mold, expire, or irritate skin. JOHNSON’S® notes (as do many scientists) that formaldehyde exists naturally, like in apples, as well as our own body. They claim that a person’s formaldehyde exposure from an apple is greater than 15 bottles of their shampoo on the scalp (of the old recipe). I’m not a scientist who has done my own lab research, but I did find this interesting.

The most important part of this is that JOHNSON’S® listened to consumer concerns, and they made changes to help parents feel more comfortable. They spent tens of millions of dollars and 2 years in the lab trying to come up with a No-More-Tears® recipe that was still moisturizing, still roughly the same color/consistency, still affordable, but completely free of formaldehyde.

They listened to their consumers and went to great efforts to change. That’s pretty remarkable, folks, and even a bunch of environmental groups praised them. I think it’s super easy for us to assume that the “big guy” doesn’t care about us, but that is not always the case.

Hopefully you are still reading because I actually found this totally fascinating. I’m one that firmly believes life is full of nuances, and that there are two sides to every single story. Learning about what really happened, and how they fixed it was so satisfying and made me feel really good about buying their product.

As we shop we respond to buzz-words (organic, all-natural, GMO-free, etc.), and while there are many products where it makes a big difference, for sure, it’s not always that cut and dry (I could actually go on about this for pages and pages, about how “organic” often just means using a different pesticide that isn’t yet tested, or farmed in places where they don’t have standards but they have organic stickers, etc.). But we are more and more programmed to buy whatever package is the prettiest, with the best font, and includes the most of these buzzwords.  

In my opinion there are two forces at work – A large “parenting industry” which didn’t exist 30 years ago, and this new “wellness” movement. Together they have created the “Modern Mom” tax (if you aren’t a parent, you are paying it too in all other products, it’s just particularly insidious with parents). More moms are working now than ever before, and many families would rather sacrifice their money to buy a so called guilt-free” product than sacrifice their time to research it. We are one of those families, and I am “that mom.” A reason I appreciate JOHNSON’S® is that they are taking into account that parents want the best for their children by improving their products while still keeping them at a reasonable price point, making the movement approachable and doable. They are a part of the “wellness” movement in a positive way because “wellness” should be a POSITIVE thing, and so much of it is. However there are undeniable pressures that come along with it.

Here’s a good example: When Charlie was 3 months old he went on a nursing strike, of which he won (NO MORE BOOB! NO MORE BOOB!). After miserably pumping for 3 more months I could pump no more, so I painfully switched him to formula. I knew, intellectually, it wasn’t a big deal but I felt REALLY guilty about it anyway. There was, and still is, a lot of propaganda/information about formula being full of this or that, and that your child will surely fail out of high school and never find love if that milky powder grazes his or her lips. So what could I do but buy what I was told was “THE BEST FORMULA IN THE WORLD”? It’s imported from Germany, where the cows are fed angel tears and massaged by the wings of butterflies . . . Although, ironically, I couldn’t exactly know what was in that precious formula, because nothing on the box was in English and I didn’t have time to go online and read about it. I had to buy it on eBay and it cost $40 a box. It felt, and was, very elitist.

Listen, I ate Miracle Whip sandwiches as a child (white bread, miracle whip, white bread – not a meal prepared for me by my mom, by the way) so I’m not a food elitist. The point is that I had no idea what was in the box, I just bought it. Do I regret it? No, it was good formula and I’m happy that more and more formulas without cornstarch or as many additives are coming to market. But I did regret how much I let my “first time mom fear” dominate my purchases.

Now, more than ever, we are trying to make choices for our family based on information, science, and research, not marketing. My favorite thing to do is read a certain high end celebrity womens’ site, and then read this doctor’s response to whatever new fear and subsequent product they are selling to combat this insidious new problem. The wellness movement is having quite the backlash right now, and it’s because women, like me, are getting exhausted by the fear based articles that are selling us really expensive “toxin-free” products that aren’t scientifically researched. I’m not saying the products aren’t good for us, I just don’t want marketing to trump science and for us to be the fools supporting it.

JOHNSON’S® explained their research approach to me, and it helped me think more clearly about how I prioritize what I need in my children’s products. They start by researching baby’s skin to understand what’s different about it, and what it might need. For example, they’ve learned that babies’ skin is thinner than adults – they say it’s like an orange versus a grape. An orange membrane is far thinner, like our babies’ skin, while adults’ skin is thicker, like a grape, and can withstand more. They then test all the ingredients they want to use, natural or non-natural, because what’s most important is that it is safe – no ingredient gets a free pass. Just because it’s “all natural” or “all organic” does not mean that it’s not going to irritate babies’ skin.

There is one nameless ‘all-natural’ brand who basically re-named a particular combination of ingredients (otherwise known as a ‘chemical’) with the word ‘coca’ in it, so that the ingredient list would look less chemical-y. There is another nameless organic brand who had to do a recall because mold was found in their baby product. That same brand’s sunscreen gives Birdie a really bad rash. The point is, finding the right formula that is safe and moisturizing for baby skin is not as easy as it is for grownups, and that has been JOHNSON’S® goal – babies.

In addition to that, they offer a page on their website called Behind the Label – it very simply and clearly explains what their ingredients are doing in the formula (for example – the scary-sounding Behentrimonium Chloride adds moisture to skin and hair.) On top of that, they use standard International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients language to describe their ingredients, so you can easily research further on your own.

This whole post is not me telling you to drop your high end, organic baby shampoo and buy the more affordable JOHNSON’S® product. We should all do whatever we feel is best for our family and what makes us the most comfortable (and again, if you can afford to buy everything from local farmers and vendors please do – we need to support them as much as we can). In a perfect world we would grow our own food, sew our own clothes, and make our own soap, right? But, am I now comfortable using JOHNSON’S® products on my kids? Yes.

My un-scientific question to you is, are any of you sick of paying the “Modern Mom” or “Modern Woman” tax? It’s not just for moms, it’s beauty, supplements, fashion, etc. In LA that tax is even higher, and it’s everywhere, so I’m curious if the bubble that we live in is spreading across the US or if we are particularly exposed to this . . .

*This post was in partnership with JOHNSON’S® but all those words are my own.

**We can’t wait to read your comments, but please remember our comment policy, and any comment that isn’t part of a progressive discussion will be deleted.


Fin Mark


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I’m glad you wrote this post. Common sense in this fear driven marketing world.
Johnson’s really does have such gentle products and they smell so clean and lovely with babies. My mom used them on all of her children and now uses them when the grandchildren visit and it reminds me of my childhood. Also I know grown women who still use their baby oil for their own skin because they love it so much. And I use their baby powder as dry shampoo.


Right? My mom gets so nostalgic walking down the baby product aisle and smelling Johnson’s baby oil!
I love when companies listen to their customers and work WITH them to make their products better. Glad you wrote this article, Emily!

Brenda Kliethermes

When did we stop trusting science? We have seen so much evidence of this in recent years as people reject vaccines, global warming, GMOs, etc. based solely on a celebrity or the guy down the street telling them that science is out to get us. We need to start educating ourselves so we can be smart consumers, voters, and citizens because we know the facts. Thank you for starting this conversation. It’s so much bigger than what baby products we buy. It’s an epidemic that’s spreading to every facet of our lives and the only way to stop it is to start making informed decisions.


I agree with most, the exception is Good crops that are designed to be paired with insecticides.


I love the transparency and your honesty in this. Thank you for starting this convo and being so open about it. We need more of this and I love that you constantly bring it to the public eye on your blog.


funny, I was at the store the other day for my pre teen daughter and her dry skin. She complains everything I buy stings…..but I buy the best non toxic blah blah blah…….Standing in the isle I grabbed the good ol pink Johnsons baby lotion. Guess what? it doesn’t sting…..


Being a mom, I love having someone like you that I can trust to bring an honest and open dialogue to the mommy conversation that we all need to have. Thank YOU


This might be a good time to get recommendations for safe and nutritious (although not necessarily expertly marketed) baby formula. I’ll be a new mom soon and want something “on deck” just in case. If anyone replies, thanks!


It’s researched and regulated enough that there’s no major difference between brands, honestly. Theres so much maternal guilt pushed at needing to supplement, it’s ridiculous.


Yes, thank you, Ros for pointing this out! As a certified lactation counselor we learned not only about safe feeding practices with breastfeeding but also with formula. And no matter how you feed your baby, doing it safely is the most important part! The marketing of formulas is such a scam and it is such a shame that we target new mamas with all of it. I was thinking the same thing as I looked online for a nursing-friendly tank top and found the prices to be OUTRAGEOUS just because of that extra little plastic snap! Just like formula, maternity & nursing clothing, baby products, anything we see sitting on a shelf amidst a million options, buzz words, fonts, colors, packaging are more often than not all that matters. And unfortunately until we, the consumers, believe we can TRUST the folks producing our options, I think we will continue to trust marketing over ingredients. Thank you for the great discussion!


We like the Earth’s Best Organic. The other commenter is right that nutrition-wise there’s no difference because formula is highly regulated. But I picked this one because (1) it’s organic, and (2) (more important to me actually) the only sweetener is lactose (like breast milk) – a lot of brands use corn syrup or brown rice syrup as a sweetener and I was not ok with that. And if you want or need to use formula do not feel guilty! Your baby will thrive as long as you feed them with love 🙂


This is a smart thing to do. I planned the heck out of breast-feeding, only to find out that I couldn’t do it (combination of boob/nipple shape and baby’s mouth shape, and some really unhappy months of pumping and not getting nearly enough milk to come out ensued). ANYWAY, I was happy with Similac and Mom’s Best formula.

Maran Buck

To Jane and previous formula comments… I am currently 41 weeks pregnant and canNOT stress enough how much I needed to read these comments tonight! I had quite a bit of mom-guilt b/c I’ve needed to use formula for my previous two kids (problems with production, etc) and definitely felt quite a bit of judgement because of it. I’ve been trying not to stress with my new little one coming so soon because the rational side of my brain knows I’m still totally bonded and taking care of my kids but it’s definitely hard not to feel inferior or somehow a failure!

Thank you Emily as always for your very logical and transparent approach to a hot topic and it just so happened the discussions branched off in a direction that was SO helpful to this very pregnant woman!!

Julie S

I like to put this out there as a lesser known option – nutritionally balanced goat’s milk formula, homemade. A lot of people would understandably say that this is one thing they’d never risk DIY’ing but here’s why I chose it when I ran into low supply issues with my second child and had to heavily supplement after 5 months (let me take the opportunity to mention tongue ties to you- the root of many, many breastfeeding struggles, should you struggle). First of all, I was convinced by the nutritional breakdown and recipe on this site as well as the 100’s of comments- I got the site/recipe from my friend who raised drug babies into wonderful healthy children and used this formula. Secondly I have a lot of food tolerance issues myself and as my baby’s tolerances were a mystery I wanted something simple with real ingredients that I myself could eat, not highly processed powdered ingredients I was allergic to with debateably absorbable added vitamins. I tend to the crunchy side of things as far as nutrition, for sure. PS my baby went from very underweight to a seriously muscled, sturdy, way too smart little girl. But look… Read more »


After months of miserable pumping I finally realized it was more important to be the Mom I wanted to be to my baby and toddler – able to give them time and energy and be happy – than to be a slave to that machine and my pumping schedule.
We tried a few different formulas before settling on Costco’s Kirkland brand. It smells better than any other we tried, and the package design is great (scooper plus “ledge” to scrape the scoop, etc.) and it’s the best price! Win win win.


I think you raise a good point that you might have to try a few different formulas until you find the right one for your baby! Both my girls ended up liking Enfamil the best.

Another thing that I found very frustrating when I made the decision to switch from mostly pumping to formula was that there is very little advice on HOW to switch. I knew the second time around that it was important to decrease pumping VERY slowly, but with my first I stopped cold turkey.

Something that I loved about bottle feeding was knowing how much my girls were getting!


Ditto! Costco brand, #ftw!

Jordan G

I have 17 month old b/g twins and I lasted 5 months with breastfeeding before going to formula. My daughter received the Costco Kirkland brand formula, and my son received Similac Sensitive because he had a tummy issues. My daughter’s formula was half the price of my son’s so I would have switched him over if I could, but it was not worth the fussing he would display when he had gas!


When my first daughter went on boob-strike, we moved to Earth’s Best. When my second daughter did, we moved to the Honest Company’s formula. It was a little healthier (which I knew because I went all type-A on that sh-t), smelled better, and she loved it. Highly recommended.


We tried a LOT of formulas with my daughter and the one that fit the best ended up being the presidents choice lower iron formula. In fact it was the only one that didn’t give her horrible constipation and tummy pain (TMI?) If nothing else it was a good lesson in how fancy and expensive isn’t always best.

New mom

Organic Munchkin sells European brands Hipp and Holle. Free shipping too.


You’ll do great! Either way: feed with love. We nursed three months then when milk, milked no more we switched over to Costco’s Kirkland brand formula. The ingredients were comparable to name brand and it was the absolute cheapest. ??‍♀️Sometimes babies have tummy issues so if this ends up being your situation be sure to ask the hospital/dr for plenty of different samples to find the one that will work best for your babe. Congratulations!


I used a formula called Baby’s Only by Natures One. It ended up being cheaper than most others if you order online (there are sites that offer discounts) and the cans are smaller so easier to travel with. Plus, it smells better. Whole Foods sells it but its more expensive there.

I exclusively breast fed for a year and then switched over. It was painless! My son loved it and never had any stomach issues. It’s worth looking into as very few moms seem to know about it!


As my father is a fan of pointing out, arsenic is both a
natural and organic…

I do appreciate this post. So much. Because the “you must be a horrible mom if you *insert something perfectly reasonable here*” crowd is strong and vocal. (Wanna see it appear? Imagine me in a waiting room at the hospital. With my toddler, who I’m pretty sure has an ear infection. We have spent 2 hours reading books, playing portable games, coloring, etc. She’s starting to act out, and there are sick people around who really don’t need a screaming toddler. How long into a Netflix episode does it take for people to come tell me I’m a horrible mother for letting her watch any tv ever? 3 minutes. It’s EVERYWHERE.) And there’s no being “perfect” enough – it’s an endless uphill battle with no clear goals or defined rules and no winning.

Nope. I’m out.


I’ve had an opposite but complementary experience. My grand-mother once hurt herself, and since my grand-father didn’t drive, I took them to the hospital. I wasn’t allowed to accompany them inside the ER room, so I waited. This mother comes with her own, very old father, and two kids (I’d say 5 and 7 ?). Because she has to go inside the ER, but her kids can’t, she has to leave them in the waiting room (absurd ? Yes, but not my point). When she came back, 20 minutes later, I went to talk to her. I could see in her eyes The Fear. She had let her kids alone, without any supervision (because she couldn’t !!), and she was clearly afraid of judgement. Her kids had been angels, and that’s what I told her. I told her they were incredibly well-behaved, and that the worst thing they did was playing with a catalogue (quietly), and that I’d been watching them in case something happened, but that there had been no need whatsoever to do anything. Suddenly, she was proud and happy, and rightly so. When I drove home, I wondered: how many people tell parents, not what they do… Read more »


Yes! I’m so glad to read this post. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and a 17-month old and I find some of the information out there is just so misleading and chemical-fearing. And don’t get me started on formula. It’s nice to read something on this topic in a blog that’s not just for science nerds 🙂

Amy M

Same 🙂 Except mine is 15m. I’ve stopped fighting about these issues. I work for BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, and you know what? They (we) are not evil!


Thanks for this post! I’m a biomedical PhD and researcher (who also loves interior design – yay!) and the “detox” movement has been driving me bonkers. Thanks for being a voice of reason for both styling and lifestyle.


Wishing it didn’t need to be Wellness ‘versus’ Science – rather Wellness + Science. A winning combination, that. Otherwise, my kids were born before ‘organic’ was part of the mainstream. They were washed with Johnson’s Baby products. They always had very healthy, glowing, nice smelling baby skin. They are still doing well. 🙂


This is super interesting time for this post, in light of the $417M lawsuit Johnson’s just went through for their baby talcum powder’s ties to cancer. They’re in full PR defense/image correction mode, I imagine! I agree with the general sentiment expressed by Emily here, which is that just slapping the labels “natural” and “organic” and “chemical free” do not necessarily make baby products safer or better than products backed by years of careful research, formulation, and calibration. But I do wish that they had waited a month or two to publish this, because I think the timing makes it just sound so defensive and reactive…not words I want to be associating myself with as a parent. Full disclosure, I started my career at Johnson and Johnson and worked with their consumer products division, which includes the products discussed in Emily’s article. And she’s right – this company is run by good people who want to do right by their families and their customers’ families. I’ve been through many different companies since my time at JnJ, and I still think of this as one of the most upstanding (Google their Credo, as they really live by it and not by… Read more »


The court decision regarding the baby powder is really unfortunate. I read as much as I could about this and from what I’ve seen (and from cancer scientists and MDs) there appears to be no compelling evidence that talc causes cancer apart from miners who routinely breathe in the particles. But any particulate can cause lung cancer if you breathe it in routinely (bakers and flour in the air, for example).

I’m not going to stop using baby powder on my feet, and if/when a baby comes into my life, I’m sure I’ll use the baby powder as part of the diaper routine as well.


For the record, using baby powder on babies’ bums is super outdated.


Yes, labels and “certifications” are completely misleading! My family has used the EWG site Skin Deep for years to help navigate cosmetic products (and often the fancy organic products don’t even rate well!). It’s a great resource for cutting through all the red tape of “natural” marketing. 🙂


I L.O.VE. that site. Environmental Working Group. Best info for sunscreen ever. Water purification systems, etc.


I used to use that site when my kids were younger but kind of forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder. But just looked up “deodorant” and most of the “top” ones are TUBS of product. Come on, who in the world wants to use their fingers or a knife to slather deodorant on; that’s disgusting, LOL. Am I missing something?


There are a lot of safer brands now with stick deo rather than tubs. Look up Native, Schmidt’s, Primal Pit Paste for starters 🙂


Yes, you are missing something. 😉 I have switched to an aluminum free deodorant that’s in a jar and have been using it for a year now. Just like with a stick, you only apply to clean pits. It’s like applying a cream or lotion. It absorbs, it’s not sticky. It doesn’t even leave a residue on my hands. I love it! Easy peasy!


Ha that’s what I thought too but even my husband changed his mind after we started using Soapwalla’s deodorant. It even works for him! And putting it on with your finger isn’t nearly as gross as it sounds I promise! Maybe give it a whirl — I’m not connected to the company at all just a devoted fan!


I love EWG too! I’ve found the same thing– that it helped me feel better about buying regular old grocery store brands over some fancy boutique “all-natural” options.


I love a couple of Johnson & Johnson products, specifically their baby shampoo (which I have used on myself on occasion) and also their baby wash. There are also cute mini samplers for new moms which I’ve given out as gifts. I am ashamed to say that I haven’t actually tried any of their products on my kids that my own mom didn’t use on me way back in the day yet. :: shrugs :: Any specific products that you guys recommend?

Elsie Larson

I would encourage you to keep looking into this stuff. Yes, there are a lot of false claims out there and bad marketing, but there are also a lot of brands making way cleaner products now.

Getting rid of artificial fragrance in your children’s/household/beauty products is not that hard, and it’s not that expensive. 🙂


I don’t pay the ‘modern woman’ tax. Probably easier for me, since I’m not a mother and don’t wear makeup. I try to strike a balance. Organic kale one day, Miracle Whip sandwich the next.

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Emily! Your journey is instructive and insightful.


Hi! I don’t have kiddos but I LOVED this post. It’s so important, so thank you for sharing. However, I wanted to mention something based on a minor sentence in here. You said Birdie gets a rash from some sunscreen – maybe check if it has aloe in it. It’s an uncommon allergy, but as a sufferer (and a redhead to boot…) it’s good to know early! My mom didn’t realize until I was 12 or so (when I cried and screamed that the aloe gel she put on my “burns” (which themselves were likely a rash from the sunscreen) made it hurt worse) and she felt horrible once we finally figured it out.


It also could be the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, and/or the fragrance. My kids both get a rash from chemical sunscreens, and I avoid fragrance in anything, so we stick with the physical sunblocks (active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide).


I’m so glad you posted this! My 14 yo daughter complains that aloe burns. I stopped using it, but thought she was just being dramatic. Some sunscreen also gives her a rash – I’ve always had to be careful with it. I’ll look for it in the labels from now on.


Feeling pressured and scared out of buying what we can afford is a serious issue these days. I’m all for companies making good products that the average person can actually afford!


I really appreciate this Emily!! It’s so overwhelming these days with all the mommy shaming. I do really feel judged by other parents and my constant pursuit of perfect is making my crazy. It’s so nice to hear from someone I really respect that they feel it too. And go Johnson & Johnson! Thanks for listening to the consumer:) Keep it up!


I don’t have kids yet, but I do know how overwhelming it can feel to stare at the rows and rows of products available to us here in America, and not actually know whats good and whats not. I can only imagine it gets harder when you’re buying for your own tiny humans! But it’s nice to know that sometimes the big companies do listen.


I love and use regularly the website Skin Deep by the EWG. It’s an incredible science based resource on all the ingredients we use in our skincare products. Johnson baby wash rates between and 4-6 (out of 10). A quick look at the ingredient label and I would pass on it because it has fragrance added, plus I try to stay under a 3. I keep mystery fragrances out of anything my family uses. I’m not a wellness junkie who discredits science, I don’t eat organic all the time. But skincare is a little scary because we haven’t asked questions about what is even in the stuff we spread on our largest organ until recently. Why is fragrance even added and where is it derived? Those questions and how we spend our money can motivate more transparency in big companies. I know people have loved this stuff for generations, but people have also loved their baby powder and look at the mess they’re in now.


This is an excellent point. Many fragrances added to skin products are known to be endocrine disruptors in animals. Not something I want to gamble with when it comes to my child.


I love this post and find it very refreshing. I just want to know, in all honesty, are you still using the products now, or was it just once to provide content? Are you still choosing this product when given the other choices sitting next to it on the shelf at the store? If this is sitting next to an organic, hippie option in your bathtub, what do you reach for first?

I totally agree that we are bombarded with mom guilt, so I’m not asking to be rude. I just want an honest answer. Mom to Mom.


I hate fear-based marketing too, and I especially hate anything that smacks of “if you don’t do this exact thing your kid will never be ok” (so many parenting books take that approach). But as someone with actual fragrance/chemical sensitivities (I get migraines), I encourage everyone to do some research on the chemical fragrances is in scented products like Johnsons baby shampoo, fragranced laundry soaps, and air fresheners like glade plug-ins. Also keep in mind the inordinate power corporations have in this country, if you catch yourself thinking something like “they wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t safe”!


Exactly! Can you believe stores are still carrying crib bumpers? And white noise machines that go so loud that they wouldn’t be allowed in a workplace? There’s so much Stuff out there that truly isn’t safe that one must not trust it’s safe just because it’s being produced or popular. And regarding chemical fragrances, don’t even get me started on dryer sheets.

Emily this post really stood out of place to me, in tone and content. I felt like JnJ were speaking through your mouth while you caught up on sleep or something. I know a gal has got to eat but it was personally a major turn off… Probably because I’m not a fan of the ingredients in the products but I also feel like you are using the mom shaming to allow us “loosen up” (a real issue indeed) but just to buy a specific sponsored product. I usually look forward to your content but felt so strongly about this post that I am taking the time to write this note on my super tiny phone keyboard.


Omg yes! Scented sheets are the absolute worst. I have had to move out of rentals due to neighbors using them, since the fragrance comes out the dryer exhaust and polluted the air down the block. Portland already had a no-fragrance policy for employees at city offices. I am waiting for it to be the first city to ban scented dryer sheets!


I’m in the wellness and organic industries you speak of. Some of it total marketing BS, some snake oil, some isn’t. I mix in a little Johnsons baby bath for my kiddo just because I like the smell for nostalgia reasons. I’m not a purist and I don’t think it’s going to impact his health. However, the ENTIRE personal care industry is self-regulated. There is NO legal requirement for safety testing, ingredient disclosure is voluntary. It takes very little “organic” or “natural” ingredients to slap that on a label. Our laws are much looser here than in Europe on testing, ingredients, pesticides and more, because corporations have a massive amount of power. So use common sense and do what’s right. We’re not all going to die because of one baby shampoo >> but there is a lot of compelling evidence about how chemicals and other lifestyle choices and accumulated chemical effects are contributing to the rise in allergies and other auto-immune responses. When people talk about “well we used this and we turned out OK.” Sure, but #1 – it’s not the same formula as it was in 1980. Not even close. #2 – there is such a thing a… Read more »


You struck home with “it’s not the same formula as it was in 1980”. Things have changed dramatically in the last 40 to 60 years. Use of pesticides has increased at an alarming rate, drugs are put on the market with little independent testing, genetically modified organisms are being introduced into our food supplies, use of plastics is alarming and each person’s toxic load is far greater than that of that of the generations that grew up in the 40s, 50s and 60s. And you’re right about marketing BS and snake oil but that’s true of conventional products AND products labeled organic. It IS hard to sift through all of the information that’s out there and all any of us can do is to do the best that we can with the resources we have. I have opted out of using a lot of commercial products period. My grandmother kept her house and clothing clean with little more than lye soap, vinegar, borax and baking soda. So do I. I choose personal products that have the simplest and fewest ingredients listed. I store drygoods in glass containers instead of plastic. I do the best that I can based on the… Read more »


Agreed. My comment was not to say that all of the wellness world is BS. Most of it isn’t. The products overall have much higher quality than mainstream. EWG is a great resource. We can all educate ourselves. The problem is because our laws protect corporations, it’s always a bit of a leap of faith unless you DIY it as you do.

Then of course the high integrity companies get acquired and the quality gets cost factored away and pretty soon they’re essentially conventional products.


1000X yes to this. Applying the same “back when I was a kid we did x,y,z and turned out fine” doesn’t hold true today. Ingredients are different, soil is different, companies have more power. A LOT of stuff didn’t exist 20-30 years ago that our bodies are trying to process and filter and are struggling to do so.


Girl YES! I mean I am not a parent yet, but see this in so many things daily! MY husband works at Bath and Body Works corporate and deals with a lot of these alarmism issues! He was at a conference and recommended this book! I haven’t read it yet but it is on my nightstand!


Thank you! I am a pharmacist and it is my living to practice ‘evidence-based medicine’. I think that growing up we all survived the evils of non -organic sunscreen and lunch meats. We are not dead yet! Can these products potentially increase the risk of disease? Yes, but this link is only so slightly supported by evidence and not yet valid science.


The problem is that 90% of the “evidence” is from studies bought and paid for by the companies themselves. People have lost their faith in this model of doing science.

Julie S

My main takeaway from this is how disappointing it is for how people feel to be the deciding influencer, whether or not it makes a grain of sense. (Talking about the formaldehyde thing.) I have seen this move heavily to the forefront the last few years – if someone feels X, then it must be true… or as my old boss used to say, perception is reality. It drives me nuts because while perception and feelings are important and should be addressed, it is SO NOT reality. I say this as an introverted feeler who can get deeply emotional! Even if you don’t believe in absolute truth or whatever, you must acknowledge that there are often opposing perceptions and they can’t all be reconciled. I wish J&J was able to say, hey the formaldehyde is a non issue and also talc is not going to kill you, here’s the proof, and that was the end of it.


They don’t really have that proof definitively, so they can’t and won’t. Plus: lawsuits.

Stacy serrins

I’ve worked in the skincare industry for 17 years. I also have my own line of organic perfume. After working with dozens of lines over the years and helping hundreds of people navigate the consumer side of the beauty industry I understand how confusing it can be for people that aren’t in the field. Your derm may tell you one thing, while your esthetician another, and next thing you know you’ve spent an hour watching pimples being popped on YouTube and you aren’t any closer to picking out a cleanser. While I do appreciate that people have their own reasons for picking the products they put on their skin…. scent, price point, their fav celeb swears by it… I will tell you the same thing I tell my clientele: what you put on your skin goes into the blood stream. Therefore, you should hold your skincare choices to the same standard you hold your food. If eating organic is important to you, than wearing organic should be equally important. If budget is a concern pair down! You don’t need a seven step regiment. Cleanse, tone, moisturizer- done! Some of my fav products are less than $10! Raw honey mixed with… Read more »


As a dermatologist I can say that it is overly simplistic to say “what you put on your skin goes into the blood stream”. This is simply not true and there are innumerable variables that can impact whether or not a topical is systemically absorbed. Additionally, and critically- the health benefits of organic products (whether applied topically or consumed) vs. non-organic products have not been demonstrated scientifically!!!

Like Emily writes… there is SO much pressure to buy organic, etc. because of the messaging that Organic = Better automatically, and this is simply NOT true, and has never been proven. It’s based on fear, so moms spend the extra money “just in case”. Scientific evidence IS actually important, is based on the highest standards, and keeps us safe.

Additionally, I would recommend considering the source of your information when you get skin care advice. A dermatologist has a medical degree and an esthetician has a different training background, the knowledge base is not equivalent.


You’re right, not everything you put on your skin goes into your blood stream as some molecules are simply too large to penetrate, Yada yada yada, but a large majority does and sometimes it’s easier to simplify when people are crushing through comments in order to make a point. Anyone that has used a patch to absorb medication probably already is aware, but I was trying to drive the point that we should hold our skincare to the same standard we hold our food (I guess you missed that?) What ever your standard is for food choices is your choice! No judgement here. However, I think it’s close minded to say that the organic, natural industries marketing is guilt based. I would argue that a large majority of it is love based. Wanting to care for Mother Earth and our bodies in the best way possible. Who wouldn’t want to spread that gospel if that’s what they truly believed. Sure there are some bad apples trying to make a buck with false claims, but it is overly simplistic to say “it’s based on fear, so moms spend extra money “just in case””. So there! We both over simplified…it happens! Yes… Read more »


Could you please provide links to the nutritional studies that use evidence to support that “organic foods” are more nutritious ? It is stretch to say that studies have proven that organic foods are more nutritious. It takes a lot of testing (ever heard of the scientific method of inquiry?) before science proves something.
All food by definition is organic (use a dictionary) except for “foods” like Cool Whip, etc. I’d much rather get my information from a medical doctor than a nutritionist.
Organic farming has to do with what is not used or not added to the food/soil. If someone choose to eat organic, fine by me. If someone chooses to eat cool whip everyday, fine by me. What I don’t appreciate is someone making claims without providing sources.


It’s pretty easy to find on your own, but here you go


Medical doctors have very little training on nutrition.


“I would argue that a large majority of it is love based. Wanting to care for Mother Earth and our bodies in the best way possible.”

When I read this my brain immediately said “So if I bypass the organic carrots, I don’t love myself or Mother Earth?” This wasn’t Stacy’s meaning, I’m pretty sure, but I think it shows how these deeply-felt views can shape what we say in ways we don’t intend. These things go beyond reason, and it’s really difficult to get out of our heads and really appreciate another argument.


I hear what you are saying. It is unfortunate. You should never feel bad about eating your fruits and veggies! I didnt say something I didn’t intend, but the way you interpreted what I said and made it into something else entirely… no! I didn’t intend for that at all. I also said no judgement here, and what you choose is your choice! People can twist my words into sentiments they are not, but I absolutely agree that it makes it very hard to have an open conversation about this. I can share links to scientific data (which I did), and request people do their homework on Monsanto because I whole heartedly believe everyone should understand that they are a wolf in sheeps clothing, but if the defenses are up…. I guess you have to ask yourself, “why do I take this personally?” What about this conversation is making it hard for me to listen to the other side?” So maybe you don’t like my tone? Well I’m ok with that, but aren’t these topics important enough to find out more? Regardless of someone’s tone? I looked into why the dermatologist would think organic foods aren’t any different than sprayed… Read more »


Thanks for that comment!!!


Stacy – I hear what you’re saying. But I am not going to “do my homework on Monsanto.” From what I know, they do some stuff that I really disagree with, and on a huge scale. But I’m choosing not to fight that battle. That’s part of the problem. I’m trying to eat two portions of oily fish a week, choose an eco-friendly car, be a good wife, do okay at work, decide if I need to write to my MP about our country selling arms to Saudi Arabia, worry about next door’s bins attracting rats, keep the house hygienic, and get something that resembles a decent night’s sleep. There is too much bad stuff in the world, and too much information, to fight on every front and stay a sane member of society. I try to make as many conscious, informed choices as I can – but there’s a priority list, and I know it’s not going to match everyone else’s.


Stacy and ladies, thank you so much for eloquently sharing your views (Stacy, your opinions happen to basically be mine exactly). This respectful conversation is why I keep reading the comments here!


I totally agree with you that the fear mongering can be insane. But Johnson and Johnson continues testing on animals. It makes me sad that this didn’t factor into your decision to support them.


Thank you for being a voice of sanity. I’m a biochemist and I notice that even my colleagues and I struggle to stay above succumbing to “natural” and “wellness” messaging, especially when children are concerned. Scientists are far from completely understanding the delicate balance of skin, but we really do operate with a rigorously questioning, “do no harm” mindset. I don’t often hear a defense of our methods from outside the field, so this was a nice reminder to keep doing what I’m doing, not all of the country mistrusts and hates us.


My first time commenting on any blog, because for the first time I do not appreciate a lifestyle and decor influencer taking on a subject that the jury is still out on, in courts and in labs. What you put on your skin is absorbed in your bloodstream, not everyone gets sick of everything harmful because there are a lot of other factors involved such as your genes and your environment, stress levels etc. but just because you or xyz’s kids grew up with certain products that are questionable and are doing fine (today) does not mean they are safe for everybody all the time. But, why unnecessarily expose yourself and try your luck? I empathize with the whole ‘I am done paying extra’ stance, I feel the same way at times, but my solution to that is to cut down on the quantity of things I consume, not the quality. We can argue in abstracts, all we want but here is something everybody (reasonable) can agree on: 1. EWG has a database that lists all products for safety- soaps, sunscreens you name it (Check it out instead of taking the manufacturer’s word for ‘organic’ and ‘safe’ standards) 2. We… Read more »


Totally agree with you. I choose to consume less products and use the best products I can when I have to buy. EWG is great and everyone should be aware of what they are putting into their bloodstream via their skin.


My comment said nothing derogatory and yet you deleted it, shows you are FAR from unbiased, hope they paid you well.


If you mean the comment you made 8 minutes before your second comment, it’s not deleted, it’s right above it. I’m guessing you either just needed to refresh the page, or perhaps it got caught by filters as something that needed manual approval.

But to be honest, part of me thinks it was generous to leave it. The end of your comment and thoughtful note about plastic usage was constructive, but your first sentence in particular was really unnecessary, as was your second comment when you mistakenly believed your comment had been deleted. Yes, Emily is a lifestyle and decor influencer. She’s also a person. Please try to be respectful.

Sidenote, the courts and labs are not necessarily “out.” They’ve found issues with big brands/products and with claims made by wellness touting products. Both are ginormous industries with skilled marketing.


I wouldn’t be reading the blog if I didn’t respect her as a decorator, and I know she is person too, however I think you need to decide if this is a personal blog or a decor related one. If you write mostly decor, build a readership then slip in ‘paid for personal opinions’, as a reader I find it manipulative and disrespectful to my intelligence.
Just like you wouldn’t go to your fashion stylist for advice on migraines, I do not appreciate the fact I come here to read decor related posts and am being brainwashed to use products that could have serious health consequences, even if it is your purely your personal opinion that it is safe to do so.
Of course there is false marketing on both sides of the industry, but there is a reason that only one of these companies has approached you to be their mouthpiece. It might have made it to the main stream news only recently but I have heard of their products being questioned world wide for last many years, so with all due respect, yes the jury is still out.


That’s easy to answer: it’s Emily’s personal blog, which mostly focuses on her design business, with other things thrown in (family, fashion, etc). She’s discussed that before.

But I’m sensing that you’re clearly very upset and on a mission, so I’m just going to leave it there, since I’ve very rarely seen this type of online conversation blossom into something better. All the best to you.


Neither am I in the decor/design industry nor in the cosmetic/chemical industry, just someone who has seen an unexplainable rise in allergies and cancers in personal acquaintances and friends/family.
So ‘mission’ -No, ‘very upset’ – Yes ! . But you are right, I don’t see much coming out of such conversation either, not when you are paid for the post. Losing one reader permanently will not make a difference to you, but one less site to read that could anger me will make a big positive difference to me.


The high road. Good call 🙂

Carly Waters

Hands down, the best website for investigating products is

I also have no time to do all the research- but this mom does, and it is an amazing resource.


??? Thank you!!! This mom pressure exists in New York for sure. I honestly think people bring different products to the playground for fear of being judged. Pampers wipes, oh the horror! ?


That is one of my favourite sponsored posts you’ve done! I am a scientist and I am constantly rolling my eyes at bloggers who schill various “chemical-free” entities (Honest Company was one most egregious example, and their sunscreen got recalled for not having any active ingredients and children ended up getting horrific sunburns). Bravo for doing your research rather than just taking the money and writing some feel-good tripe.

P.S. It is very unfortunate about that Johnson baby powder cancer court ruling recently, but keep in mind that it was a jury without any scientific background, who was persuaded with similar emotional tactics used to scare people into buying “natural” products, who made that decision.


Great post. There is so much fear based marketing directed right at parents, who all desperately want the best for their kids.
I would be SO interested to read more on your findings on organics. I fall pray to the only organic produce trap all the time, and would really like to learn more about what it all really means.
Thanks for all you do! Your blog has awesome, relevant content.


Hi Meg,

Not to butt in here, but I work in the organic food industry and posted some factual information with resources in the comments. Very long post so you probably can’t miss it, but closer to the end. Hope it’s helpful.


Omg! I so can relate to this article. I am so overwhelmed by all the information we are being told about how bad basically everything in our food, skin care, make-up, detergents, cleaning products deodorants, and the list goes on and on that I hate shopping anymore and I used to love to shop. I literally get anxious when I have to go to the grocery store with thoughts of is this ok to buy for my family or is it going to harm them, oh no the store is out of organic apples I can’t buy non organic apples so guess my family won’t get apples this week and on and on it goes through my visit to the store. I now try to avoid going as much as possible.

Jenni McAteer

I think it is appalling the way that brands try & guilt trip parents into purchasing their products. When I had my baby,who is almost 18rys organic baby food & cleansing products were only just reaching the market. Back then the guilt on mothers was more about breast feeding or formula for your baby. The marketing by some of formula companies were harsh & pushed mothers to buy the most expensive product for their babies, because they were feeling so guilty about not breast feeding & would do anything to try and provide the so called best other option.

Walking through the baby isle to another area of the supermarket, I continually see first time stressed out mum’s trying to navigate the vast amount of products claiming all sorts of benefits and with super high price tags. So, I thank you so much for taking a stance on this & letting parents know that often there is nothing wrong with the everyday brands that have been around for a very long time that offer products which are more affordable to many parents.

Jami Nato

This post bummed me out, however I respect your optinion even though I don’t agree.

I think we can do better than the crazy chemical laden world we live in.

With that said, your decorating rocks my face off. And we can agree on good taste. 🙂


Great job with internet civility! It’s so easy to be negative and rude when you disagree, but you didn’t! I am going out of my way to notice and compliment responsible internet users. Sincerest thumbs up, Jami 🙂


I liked both of these comments! Also disagreed with a lot of the content of the post but I do love this blog. I never buy anything because it says dairy free or vegan or wellness or whatever but J&J baby products (and other similar ones) make me nervous and queasy for various reasons. This post just felt really off to me unfortunately. I look forward to coming back again tomorrow for the interiors content though!


Truly interesting post. Johnson and Johnson picked a perfect brand ambassador. Your voice is authentic and reaches the demographic that they target. Baby shampoo aside, they have demonstrated that shader holder profits and not consumer health is the priority- see recent class action on link btwn baby powder and ovarian cancer. This is some Erin Brochvtich stuff and I don’t think it can or should be ignored.


I’ve felt the mom-shame too, but since then, I’ve grown out of it. My solution: asking myself is I can do without that stuff ? My cleaning products have gone from a zillion different ones to white vinegar. That’s it. Soap is a good old Castille soap bar for the entire family (one apiece). Moisturizing cream is plain, organic almond oil, because I don’t see the point in spending 459€ a liter for a Dr Hauscka cream when almond oil is 10€/L. I take my make-up off with olive oil and my hands. And so on and so forth.
That step has solved a TON of problems by eliminating the problem, hence no need to find a solution. It’s way cheeper, easier, and clutter-free. I don’t have to ask myself if it’s organic or non-GMO or anything. The less I use, the less decisions I have to make.
For food, my rule is: as much as I can: organic, local, package-free. The more things I check, the better. And if it’s zero, then I ask myself if I need it, and if I do, I buy it, no guilt, no shame.


YES!!!! Healthy and chemical free can be VERY EASY AND CHEAP ladies if you go back to basics that have always worked. I live by a very similar set of products. Castile soap, lemon juice, olive oil, coconut oil, and witch hazel. They do wonders and protect me and my baby.


Another chemical free cleaning person here. Vinegar, peroxide, lemon, local natural soaps. It’s not necessarily about “organic” for me. It’s about no overwhelming fragrances, and just trying to be as natural as possible. It’s not just organic that’s expensive. There are lots of companies that sell skin care and make up, etc that are very very expensive that are not organic!! But, it’s so true that not all organic certifications are created equal!! Just wish it didn’t have to be a “pick a side” type of thing.

Clean water, clean air in your home, Try not to use so much plastic. And I do have some plastic in my home. But, there will never be vinyl in my home, it’s the worst off gasser. I will treat my child holistically for sickness but she had her first ear infection (at 7 years old) and you bet I gave her ibuprofen and antibiotics, it was definitely needed. Trying to be balanced about it.


There is a lot of evidence that Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder usage by women causes ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson is fighting the numerous lawsuits that are being brought against them. However there is substantial evidence that women that use their baby powder and shower to shower products have a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Arthella Starke

Great article! Common Sense should dominate. A well balanced healthy diet is the foundation of good health. After doing quite a bit of personal research on the “organic” label, I determined that it was just too vague and too poorly applied to actually merit the extra cost. We started growing our own garden and found that nothing tastes better than a wonderful home grown vegetable picked at 4:30 pm and served at 6:00 pm. Home grown veggies are not that difficult and certainly worth the time and effort. When children actually get to help plant, water and care for the food they grow, they actually benefit in so many ways. I recommend the small back yard garden. Look up the wonderful “key hole” garden and see how it can fit in most small back yards.


I am a long time reader and never before commented although many posts have really resonated but this time I feel compelled to say… I LOVED THIS POST!!! thank you!! SO sick of the mom-guilt/tax induced by all this propaganda but as you said, I haven’t wanted to not buy into it for fear of not doing what’s best for my baby/husband… So thanks. Really loved this article-the info about Johnson’s specifically and the idea in general. Great job, as usual 🙂


Yes your right. I have two boys. I do everything to protect them. They protected them to Gluten, Most of the time very hard.
Thank you.


It’s an interesting post, raising issues that go much further than simply caring for a child. I’m not a mother but I’m a researcher and I’ve done a lot of work on natural products from plants. I can tell you I personally steer well clear of any skin product (or food/supplement for that matter) that contains extracts from plants which I don’t recognise as safe. If it’s a plant that we have never consumed as part of our diet or in a tea/infusion there are probably good reasons for not ingesting it in large quantities. Furthermore, skin products made with extracts from such plants can contain unknown, untested chemicals (often in unknown concentrations) which could do anything from give us a small rash to much worse. As with everything in life the old saying comes to mind: it’s the dose that makes the poison. Products made without rigorous testing and chemical analysis could be dangerous. I have heard of homemade soap bars having pH of 12! No thank you I won’t use that even if it is made of “all natural, vegan etc” ingredients.

خرید گل مصنوعی

It was impressive to me


Love this, Emily! Thank you for all your research on this. I was bamboozled by a few “gurus” out there but have learned to do a little more science-based research. If people think that a lot of these “wellness” based products/ideas aren’t out to make some money themselves, think again! It’s all about marketing these days and appealing to our vulnerabilities. There’s a lot of crap and fear-mongering to wade through, no wonder parents are completely overwhelmed!!!!


This post is also sponsored, I mean for money. Food for thought.

Victoria S

Love this post. I hate how as a “millennial mom” I’m a target market and brands push a bunch of crap with pretty packaging and fluffy ingredient names. FWIW, I purposely cruise right on by the organic aisles because I refuse to pay extra for marketing. ?

William Kreps

This is one of the best articles I have come across. Keep up the good work.


I love you Emily and look forward to reading your blog everyday, but, formaldehyde aside, ovarian cancer is not a risk I’m willing to take.



Just because a jury awarded damages doesn’t mean there is scientific proof of a link. Attorneys can and do convince juries to get it “wrong” all the time, Exhibit A: O.J. Simpson’s murder acquittal. I’m not discounting a possible link between baby power and cancer, but a civil jury verdict isn’t the same “proof” as scientific-method based research and conclusions.


Do you work for Johnson and Johnson’s? Seems so weird to question this verdict unless you are invested in defending Johnson and Johnson’s rep. Emily was paid by J&J, but I thought her point her is supposed to be a more general criticism of marketing/
promotion of wellness /organic personal care product industry that taps into mother’s guilt/insecurity.

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